Esther Ann Hicks--Essie--is the youngest child on Six for Hicks, a reality television phenomenon. She's grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family's fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. 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--through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell--Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?
Changing the narrative
A resourceful, resilient teen heroine is at the heart of Meghan MacLean Weir’s propulsive debut novel. Demure and obedient, 17-year-old Essie has played the perfect preacher’s daughter for years—she’s the youngest of the brood that makes up “Six for Hicks,” a hit reality TV show starring her family. But now Essie is pregnant, and she won’t name the father. As the novel opens, Essie’s image-first mother is debating whether to arrange an abortion or secret adoption, or somehow try to pass off her grandchild as her own.
Essie, however, has other plans: After all, what gets better ratings than a wedding? Essie already has her eye on a groom: Roarke Richards, an athletic high school senior. The two barely know each other, and Roarke is skeptical—but once he realizes the deal includes enough money to save his parents’ business and pay for his dream college, he’s in. As Roarke and Essie try to sell their sudden wedding as a fairy tale and not a shotgun, the reader (and Roarke) gradually realizes that there’s more to Essie’s story (and her plan) than it first appears.
Weir, a doctor whose first book was a memoir about her pediatric residency, doles out the details of Essie’s past slowly but steadily, gaining a momentum that keeps the pages turning. As a pastor’s daughter, Weir is also adept at using the language of evangelical life, lending an authenticity that takes the book beyond a Duggar-family pastiche. The tentative trust that grows between Essie and Roarke gives The Book of Essie emotional depth, and the questions at its center have a surprising moral weight. Readers will root for Essie through every twist and turn of her story.