Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I am not Esther by Fleur Beale

It has always been Kirby and her mother together, a comfortable and familiar life where Kirby helps keep her mother on track and her mother works as a nurse.  They don't have a lot of money, and they don't have lots of material belongings, but they have always had each other - until the day Ellen announces they are moving from Auckland to start a new life.  Kirby is frustrated and furious, but when they arrive at their destination Kirby discovers that things are worse than she thought because her mother is leaving New Zealand to work in Africa, and Kirby is going to live with an aunt and uncle she never knew she had.

Joining the large family of her aunt and uncle is bad enough, but she soon discovers they are not just a large family, they are also part of an extreme religious group called the Children of the Faith.  For the Children of the Faith the Rule is the most important thing, and for people to follow the Rule they must be free of the distractions of the modern world and must live simple and pious lives.  It is a complete culture shock for Kirby, and to make matters worse she is forced to give up her own name and must respond to the name Esther instead.  With her world wrenched away from her, Kirby struggles to hold on to her identity as the harsh rules of the Children of the Faith begin to wear away at the edges of who she is - and when she reaches out for help she discovers that her mother was keeping more than one secret from her.

This is the second time recently I have drifted to my own personal library to look for inspiration for books to review after discarding a series of library books in quick succession.  I am not Esther was first published in 1998 and it is a book I would firmly place in the modern classic category, and more than one teenager in New Zealand has read this book a set text for English, and even more have discovered and read I am not Esther for its own merit.  Fleur Beale is one of my favourite New Zealand authors for teenagers, touching on tough topics with surprising ease, sharing with her teenage audience a genuine reading experience that doesn't treat them like idiots and doesn't hold back.  I am not Esther tackles several very serious issues for teenagers - Kirby is abandoned by her mother after spending years keeping her on track, she is left with a religious cult with no hope of escape, and then she finds herself facing a kind of Stockholm syndrome because of her growing relationship with her cousins.

I am not Esther is not an easy read or light and fluffy, however it is one of those books that stays with you for a long time because of the "realness" you feel with what Kirby goes through.  When she is angry you feel the anger with her and understand her motivation, when she is conflicted you can feel why she feels that way, and when she waivers in her conviction you feel the confusion and confliction that leaves her feeling so lost.  You may need to borrow a library copy to read this book, but it is highly recommended.  A true real life read that could almost be ripped from the headlines.

If you like this book then try:
  • Dirt bomb by Fleur Beale
  • The kidnapping of Christina Lattimore by Joan Lowery Nixon
  • The half life of Ryan Davis by Melinda Syzmanik
  • Land of milk and honey by William Taylor
  • Genesis by Bernard Beckett
  • When we wake by Karen Healey
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • See ya, Simon by David Hill
  • I swear by Lane Davis

Reviewed by Brilla

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