I selected The Book Of Essie as my June 2018 Book Of The Month pick, and then added two more books to my shipment for that month – The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and a copy of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve read and absolutely loved Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (my rave review here). I just added it to my June Book Of The Month box so I could have a hardcover copy of the novel at home, since I originally read it as a library ebook.
Since I ended up DNFing The Kiss Quotient only 4 or 5 chapters in (unreadable for me because of the cringe-worthy romance novel writing), I decided to just review The Book Of Essie as a stand alone post instead of putting together a whole June 2018 Book Of The Month post.
The Book Of Essie made up for my not being able to get through The Kiss Quotient. It was a complex novel that captivated my interest with an original premise and enough plot twists to keep me reading. See why I gave it 4 stars in my review.
The Book Of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir
Publication Date: June 12th 2018
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Length In Hardcover: 319 pages
Goodreads Rating: 4.04
Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. 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, Essie finds she has questions of her own: Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?Original premise. The premise of this novel was particularly interesting to me as someone who works in entertainment and who is a fan of some kinds of reality television. The part of the story having to do with the reality show that follows Essie’s family is written believably and provides the perfect narrative tension for the events of the novel. Not that every reality mom is necessarily as corrupt and immoral as Essie’s, but the way in which the production team reacted to Essie’s predicament felt more than possible and it was interesting to reflect on the effects of this kind of reality show on the children involved.
The twist. There’s a pretty significant revelation in the narrative about 3/4ths into the novel – not one that you don’t necessarily see coming maybe halfway in, but regardless one that is surprising and disturbing enough to add a new dimension to the narrative. It takes what is already a pretty messed up situation to a new level, and brings about an explosive resolution to the novel shortly thereafter. I won’t tell you more to avoid spoilers, but I think that this plot line takes the novel in a new direction towards the end.
The writing. You could have expected lackluster and superficial writing from a novel having to do with something as vacuous as reality television. MacLean Weir, however, takes the narrative and its subject to a greater level of depth by including adept descriptions of her character’s emotions and the inner workings of their minds, as well as by focusing on serious themes like the meaning of motherhood, family, independence, child abuse (trigger warning), love and friendship. The frivolous world of reality television is just a backdrop for a beautifully written story of liberation.
Sporadic lack of depth. I just finished saying that Maclean Weir takes the world of reality television as a backdrop for her story, but brings its characters and themes to greater depths in the execution. However, I still felt that in trying to accomplish so much by including multiple serious themes and complex character development, Maclean Weir sometimes falls short of being able to fully realize her ambitious intentions. There are times when the two main characters, Essie and Roarke, feel one-dimensional and hard to connect to, despite the moving predicament they find themselves in. The resolution of the novel also feels a bit rushed compared to the build up that precedes it.
An original premise and memorable characters treated with depth and boldness by the author in an extremely successful debut novel.
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 holds degrees in Molecular Biology and Medical Anthropology from Princeton and Oxford Universities, respectively, as well as an MD from the Stony Brook School of Medicine. She continues to live and work as a physician in the Boston area. The Book Of Essie is her first novel.
Have you read The Book Of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my other recent Just Read reviews, including for dystopian thriller The Seclusion by Jacqui Castle, biography of Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson, historical mystery Call Of The Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks, true crime title A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong and contemporary fiction novel The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang.
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