The Book of Essie, by Meghan MacLean Weir
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Release Date: June 12, 2018
Length: 336 pages
Times Read: Once
Rating: Freaking organized religion, man
A debut novel of family, fame, and religion that tells the emotionally stirring, wildly captivating story of the seventeen-year-old daughter of an evangelical preacher, star of the family’s hit reality show, and the secret pregnancy that threatens to blow their entire world apart.
Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?
What I Liked: This is the second book in two weeks with a main character named Essie. For a name I’ve never heard before, two seems excessive. The Essie in this one is on a show called Six for Hicks with her large family, a reality TV show with a striking similarity to something familiar…
♥ Essie. This girl is brilliant. She’s crafted a character for herself on Six for Hicks and plays her flawlessly. She’s grown up on camera and has never known a life without the show. But as she gets older, the more and more she wants out. When she finds that she’s pregnant at 17, she sees a real opportunity in the mess and begins quietly moving all of her pieces into place while letting her obnoxious manager mother think it’s all her idea.
♥ Roarke. Oh, Roarke. I wasn’t so sure about you at first, but boy did you grow on me. I guessed his secret pretty immediately, and it only made me like him more. He becomes a major support to Essie, and while their romance is fabricated, the love that they find together is breathtakingly beautiful. He has a sad backstory that he doesn’t talk about much, and I really wish we learned more about it. It’s mentioned only a few times, and while they do mention the camp again at the end, it felt like a real missed opportunity that it wasn’t discussed further in the book.
♥ Behind the Scenes of Reality TV. Fun fact about me: I adore reality TV. From season 1 of The Real World to season infinity of the Laguna Beach and The Hills, I’ve watched it all. (EXCEPT for 19 Kids and Counting. It was always so creepy to me and it turns out I was right) There’s a show on Lifetime called Unreal, a fictional take on the production team of a Bachelor-type show. Since the premier, I’ve never been able to look at reality TV the same again. Much as I love it, can’t miss it, plan my week around it, there’s always a tiny part of me asking “was this produced or a genuine reaction?” So reading this book with it’s in-depth look into the production of Six for Hicks really worked for me. We see Essie’s awful mother running everything, from deciding what to do about Essie’s pregnancy to who to marry her off to, all without Essie’s input. Nothing is left to the imagination, we get to see how new characters are incorporated into the show, contract negotiations, even how many takes until you get the perfect “first kiss” shot.
♥ Smart Girls Getting Shit Done. Like I said earlier, Essie is brilliant. She’s cunning and has learned exactly how to manipulate her mother into getting what she wants. It’s fascinating to watch this girl that at first we think is meek and mild turn out to be incredibly strong and brave.
Cecila, Essie’s mother, while awful was still crazy smart. She figured out how to create an entire empire out of a preacher and a couple of kids. The show is now universally watched and is still producing new episodes. She knows how to take something like a 17 year old daughter of a pastor and turn it into ratings gold. Hate her if you want (and I do), but she’s still a smart lady getting shit done.
♥ The Depiction of Religion. To be clear, the picture they paint us is AWFUL, and I’m here for it. I have very complicated feelings about organized religion based on my childhood, so I love seeing religion in it’s true colors. It’s not always love everyone and be kind. It’s often manipulative, full of double standards, and a walking contradiction. To see an uber religious family that didn’t practice what they preached behind closed doors? I grew up with that. Most people would never imagine from the outside what goes on inside them.
What I Didn’t:
⊗ Libby. She just fell a little flat to me. They teased her backstory forever and when I finally got to it, I was sort of underwhelmed. I just kept waiting for there to be more to her story but it never got there.
⊗ It’s All A Little Too Easy. I know it’s a book and not real life, but Roarke went along with all of this a little quickly for me. Yes he wants to get money for his parents, yes he wants to get money for his dream school, but he decides awfully quick to join a reality TV show and marry a girl he doesn’t know. I’m glad it worked out that way because I really love Roarke, but still. There’s also the mystery of Essie’s sister, which also resolved without any real stumbling blocks. Essie wants to find her, she’s found, their reunion is moved through quickly, and all of a sudden she’s on the show again. For Essie, sure, but…left Essie behind before, knowing what would happen.
⊗ Side Characters That Aren’t Fleshed Out. Essie’s sister and several brothers, Roarke’s friends, Essie’s dad, Libby’s camerawoman…we never learn much about them, and I would have liked to.
⊗ It’s All A Little Too Duggar Family. From beginning to end it could be a story of the Duggars with very little changed out. I don’t have a problem with that necessarily, but it seemed like awfully heavy borrowing from pop culture without acknowledging it.
Favorite Quotes: “As if how you feel about your family ever makes any sense at all.”