Rebecca and her twin sister Rachel are Children of the Faith and try to live their lives by the Rule. It is not always to remain true children of God, especially when they are tempted by the Worldly people around them, and even after the family moves from Wanganui to Nelson to live with a wider community of the Children of the Faith there are still challenges. Rebecca, Rachel and the rest of the Pilgrim family live under the cloud of having not one, not two, but three family members who have left the community - family members who by their rules must now be dead to them. It is easy for them to be under suspicion, and for their actions to be carefully scrutinised - but they both have their faith and desire a place in the community.
When they are chosen to be the public face of their community at the local market, it is a chance for them to spend time together away from the community - though they are never truly alone as they have a chaperon on every visit. Their visits to the market allow them a small escape and the opportunity to see the world beyond their community. As they approach the age of betrothal and marriage Rebecca and Rachel realise their lives will never truly be the same again and while it appears that they are headed for a happy future within their community, Rebecca soon realises that nothing is certain in their small community and that strict obedience to the Rules and the Elders does not keep you safe from being human.
Writing a sequel to a classic book like I am not Esther must have been a daunting prospect for Fleur Beale - for many reasons. I am not Esther is one of the best books I have read for young people that looks at the social control of an extremely religious group or cult - there are some American novels which look at the FLDS but they fall short of the detail and psychological manipulations of I am not Esther. I am Rebecca has more in common with the books about the FLDS because it is told from the perspective of a child raised as a Child of the Faith, which makes her discoveries and feelings even more powerful because she should in theory see nothing wrong with what is happening.
I am Rebecca is a story of contrasts and contradictions. You have the Children of the Faith and the Wordly - the Children are supposed to be godly and pure, yet it is the Worldly woman at the market who seems to show true Christian kindness. The Elders are supposed to care and protect the Children in their care, speaking the voice of God - yet it is the Elders that are manipulating their followers and who seem to have their own motivations and needs. The strongest contrast is seen through Rebecca and Rachel - their lives forced along different paths - a widening gap you feel so strongly because they are identical twins who have spent their entire lives together.
It has been a long wait for a sequel to I am not Esther (which was first published in 1998!) but it has been well worth the wait. I am not Rebecca can easily be read independently of I am not Esther and while I would not exactly describe it as an "enjoyable" read (the meat of the story is a little too unsettling for that) I was thoroughly absorbed in Rebecca and her world and resented every intrusion into my reading time. Another classic from New Zealand Fleur Beale that deserves an international audience. The perfect read for anyone wanting to introduce young people to extreme religious groups and the potential dangers they present.
If you like this book then try:
- I am not Esther by Fleur Beale
- Dirt bomb by Fleur Beale
- The chosen one by Carol Lynch Williams
- Sister wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka
- Keep sweet by Michele Dominguez Greene
Reviewed by Brilla