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****I Am Not Esther

by Fleur Beale

Reviewed June 30, 2003.
Hyperion Press, New York, 2002.  256 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (JF BEA).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #2, Young Adult Contemporary Novels

Fourteen-year-old Kirby lives alone with her mother and runs the household.  She does the shopping and cooking and even writes the checks to pay the bills.  Her mother’s a little scatterbrained, but they love each other dearly.

One Christmas Eve, her mother is very upset by a letter.  She tells Kirby they’re moving.  When they’ve left, she tells Kirby she’s actually going to work with refugees, and Kirby is going to stay with an aunt and uncle whom she’s never met before.

The aunt and uncle treat Kirby as their own daughter.  The trouble is, they are part of a strict religious sect and their own six children must follow the Rule.  They spend their time on chores, read only the Bible, wear old-fashioned clothes, and never use contractions or nicknames.  Since all the women of the faith have Biblical names, they have given Kirby the name Esther.

Of course Kirby doesn’t want to comply with their rules, but when she defies them, her uncle is not physically abusive.  Instead, the whole family must pray over her for hours until she repents.  Kirby feels so sorry for her little cousin Magdalene, she eventually gives in.

Still, it’s difficult adjusting to this new religious life.  Kirby finds herself answering to the name Esther and wondering who she really is.

Normally, I’m not crazy about books where religious people are the villains, but I Am Not Esther is a powerful and moving book.  The people in the cult are portrayed with respect, even while the author shows what evil comes from their extreme views.  This book is well-written, thought-provoking and captivating.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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