- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 7, 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0525436073
- ISBN-13: 978-0525436072
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 170 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Book of Essie Paperback – May 7, 2019
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"I was immediately captivated by The Book of Essie, a unique and moving story about a young woman whose life has been hijacked by fame, family and faith--and her spectacular, surprising plot to take it back." –Vanessa Diffenbaugh, bestselling author of The Language of Flowers and We Never Asked for Wings
"Every once in a while, a novel comes along that is both timelessly beautiful and unbelievably timely. The Book of Essie is such a story. Meghan MacLean Weir has given us a young heroine who is at once authentic and courageous — and a tale that is wonderful and mysterious and relentlessly surprising." —Chris Bohjalian, bestselling author of Midwives and The Flight Attendant
“A page-turning tale.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Weir does a fine job of portraying Essie initially as a teen whose mindset is reflexively strategic, and increasingly as a young woman with an elegant intelligence and a beating and quite breakable heart.” —WBUR
"The youngest daughter of an Evangelical preacher-turned-reality TV star hatches a plan to wrangle her freedom—and expose the dark truth about her family—in Weir's debut novel... Deeply sympathetic... well-paced... and the unexpected tenderness between Essie and Roarke gives the novel genuine emotional punch." —Kirkus
"Topical… Essie's father may be a famous evangelical preacher, but her ruthless mother, Celia, runs the family empire from behind the scenes. When her family discovers Essie is pregnant, it's decided that she should marry, but whom?... Weir's narrative features some finely nuanced characters… An incisive novel." —Publishers Weekly
"A resourceful, resilient teen heroine is at the heart of Meghan MacLean Weir’s propulsive debut novel… Weir, a doctor whose first book was a memoir about her pediatric residency, doles out the details of Essie’s past slowly but steadily, gaining a momentum that keeps the pages turning… Weir is also adept at using the language of evangelical life, lending an authenticity that takes the book beyond a Duggar-family pastiche. The tentative trust that grows between Essie and Roarke gives The Book of Essie emotional depth, and the questions at its center have a surprising moral weight. Readers will root for Essie through every twist and turn of her story." —Trisha Ping, BookPage
“A gripping page-turner.” —Bustle
About the Author
MEGHAN MACLEAN WEIR was raised in the rectory of her father's church in Southbridge, Massachusetts, and later moved with her family to Buffalo, New York. Her memoir, Between Expectations: Lessons from a Pediatric Residency, chronicles her years in training at Boston Medical Center and Boston Children's Hospital. She continues to live and work as a physician in the Boston area. This is her first novel.
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Ultimately this is a study of exceptional courage, and the portrait of Essie is beautifully written. My only complaint is that the secondary narrative--that involving Libby-who herself is victimized tragically by militant parents who take over and occupy a government building in the name of religion is less well drawn and, for me, anyway remains somewhat confusing. That said, this is a highly entertaining and suspenseful read.
I believe the author was trying to make some insightful commentary on the impact of religion - particularly evangelical Christianity; on feminism and being a woman; and on fame. I don't think the novel itself was long enough to really explore all of those with any nuance, though. Instead of trying to let the themes shine through with the characters' actions and motivations, Weir gives them internal monologues that align with her beliefs and the message she's trying to share. The problem is, they usually don't make sense - either for that character or the particular time frame they're having it. One example (non-spoiler) is when the conservative interviewer, Liberty Bell, notes that Essie has chosen to wear a red dress for an interview. She goes off on an internal monologue about what the color red has meant to women through the ages that both seemed out of place AND completely unnecessary to make the point; just having Essie wear the red dress, and maybe Liberty making an offhand comment about it, would've been fine enough on its own.
Additionally, this is like a plot device kitchen sink. There's the main plot of Essie's story; then there are the two B plots of Liberty's background story and Roarke's backstory. Both Liberty's and Roarke's are completely unnecessary to the plot and don't do anything to move it forward. Liberty's is actually pretty boring, and serves as a distraction when you really want to be moving forward with Essie's. All three storylines have secrets and 'twists' that are pretty predictable; the secret-keeping becomes more annoying than anything else. I figured out Liberty's and Essie's much earlier than they were actually revealed, and the artificial lengths the author went through to keep them concealed felt laborious rather than thrilling. Roarke's comes much earlier and was less expected, but that's because it kind of felt shoehorned in.
Finally, there's the character development. The only way a story like this really works is if you make the characters deep enough to reflect some understanding as to how they got the way they are - and flawed enough to make them seem real, relatable. But every character in this is pretty one-dimensional: they are either good or they are bad. Essie is probably the most well-developed character (she's got maybe 2 dimensions), but the story *never* explores the incredibly emotional and psychological impact that growing up on camera - not to mention her personal trauma, which is revealed in the plot - would have on her psyche and personality. In fact, for all that the book claims has happened to her, she seems remarkably well-adjusted. Her older sister, too, seems no worse for the wear, despite an incredibly similar story. Liberty Bell and Roarke Richards both have their own personal traumas that happened to them at very young ages - and these aren't teenage "she broke up with me" kinds of traumas; they are things that would break an adult - and yet *nothing* about them seems off or sad or even just a little messed up. Without counseling, without therapy, without much support from anyone at all, all of them seem to have come to terms with their traumas and come out the other side perfectly healthy in a very short period of time. For a book that claims to plumb the depths of how fame and the terribleness of the world can really touch and scar a person...none of the 'good guys' seem to have any scars.
And on the other hand, all of the bad characters are just bad. Essie's father is the one that comes the closest to being sympathetic. But her mother, the siblings she doesn't like, and others on the 'bad' side have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Without spoiling, this is even more tragic, because one character's personality (if correctly fleshed out) could go a long way towards demonstrating a key and really important tenet the book is trying to carry across - vaguely, how people can get away with terrible things, even when the truth is out.
All in all, I wouldn't skip - it's a good story, and it's interesting to see how it comes together. The first half is much better than the second half. Just adjust your expectations accordingly.