The Book of Essie
By Meghan MacLean Weir
Published June 2018
I borrowed this book from my local library. Get a library card and use it!
This review contains slight spoilers and references to sex abuse
I really loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. I know most people say that about the books they read but I generally have no problem putting a book down and walking away if it bores me in the slightest. Often I don’t pick books back up. For the Book of Essie I sat down around 10 a and began reading. I closed the book around 6 p that evening having stopped only for a few minutes at a a time to move around and take a shower.
Not only was the book great, but it is timely. The story follows a young girl who is part of a religious mega family that has its own reality TV show. If you thought of the Duggars, so did I.
I bring up the Duggar family because The Book of Essie is largely about sex abuse and how it is covered up when families, especially prominent families are allowing it to happen in their own homes. Much like the Duggars, Essie’s family was complicit in her abuse and exploitation. One of the major plot points in the story was the question of who else knew it was happening and did nothing. The names on that list continued to grow up until the last few chapters and it’s heartbreaking because of the reality behind it.
Essie, the main character is clever, a survivor, and intensely compassionate. Essie is pregnant and needs to figure out what to do about it since the media covers her family’s every move and she’s an unmarried highschooler. She comes up with a plan years in advance just for this scenario and she executes it beautifully considering the terrible reality. Essie, while manipulative and scheming, is lovable. This is because we know Essie’s motives without her initially revealing them. She wants to escape her abuser, her family, and she wants her baby to be safe. She finds this safety in a classmate, Roarke who also wants to escape.
Roarke is lovable and teaches us a lot about the hypocrisy of reality TV and the people who love and hate it. Roarke also offers a few teaching moments about using other people to make a point. The love story between Roarke and Essie is not romantic, but it is something better, its about love between friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better love story, especially because a romantic one would have been tasteless and wrong all things considered.
The only confusing portion of the novel was the character Libby, a reformed religious fanatic. Libby’s role in the story was clear to begin with, to be the only journalist that interviews Essie and to help Essie find her sister. Her secondary roles become evident later in the story and the large chunks of the book dedicated to her suddenly have purpose. Libby’s story line is parallel to Essie’s in an unusual way and while it was confusing at first. It felt incredibly rewarding at the end even though Libby’s purpose is practically spoon fed to us in the last few chapters.
I loved this book and have already recommended it to many people. Its timeliness, criticism or reality TV, and lessons are beautifully executed and ultimately teach us that passing judgement too quickly is at the heart of hate and silence is complicity.