I AM NOT ESTHER by Fleur Beale


Age Range: 14 & up
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While Kirby’s mother is a most efficient and admired nurse, at home she can’t seem to get it together, leaving the daily details to Kirby. Suddenly over the Christmas holidays, Mom announces she’s going to leave New Zealand for Africa to work with refugees and Kirby must stay for an undetermined amount of time in a distant city with heretofore-unknown relatives. Arriving at the home of Aunt Caleb and Aunt Naomi, Kirby discovers that these relatives are staunch members of an extreme religious group that demands plain living by the “Rule.” Horrified, she tries to flout the many requirements for her dress and behavior only to discover that the other children in the family are punished by having to submit to endless kneeling and prayer until she obeys. Trying to cope until she can contact her mother, Kirby becomes Esther (only Biblical names are acceptable) and an essential, if grudging part of the family. An older sister, termed “dead” because she has been cast out has left a gap, which Esther begins to fill. Beale portrays the submission of one’s will as offering safety and security to believers, even as she shows the damage and pain. This dichotomy allows readers to see that the cold heartlessness of Uncle Caleb is a result of his trying to do what he thinks is right because he loves his family. The complexity of the ethical questions is nicely balanced by psychologically realistic portrayals of the effect of the sect on the characters in the past and present. A somewhat predictable dénouement doesn’t prevent this from being an engaging and credible survival story of an unusual nature. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-7868-0845-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2002