Available now in bookstores nationwide. There will be a launch for this book on Sunday 21 September at 5pm, at The Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie.
I’ll be honest with you, Fleur Beale is one of my favourite kiwi YA authors. So any time she puts out a new book, I know it will be a worthwhile read, with a relatable teenage protagonist.
Fleur’s latest, I am Rebecca, is a follow-up to her bestselling book from 1998, I am not Esther. This time she tells the story from the inside looking out, of life within The Children of the Faith, and the expectations placed on herself and her peers at an early age.
The story begins as the Pilgrim family, along with the rest of the Whanganui branch of The Children, move south to Nelson, to join with another branch. The reason for the move is unclear, but the teenagers assume it has something to do with needing to match-make, as many of the young females are approaching marriageable age – 16. Rebecca has lived her entire life within her family group, though she and the other children had to attend a ‘worldly school’ in Whanganui. It is a frightening prospect, then, when she is sent with her twin, Rachel, to sell produce at a farmers’ market on Saturdays in Nelson. This interaction with people who live their lives in freedom proves an eye-opener for both sisters.
At no stage in the book does Beale let up on the tension, as we follow the sisters through impossible situations with regards to the Rule regarding every aspect of the Children of the Faith and how they manage themselves. The sisters must abase themselves each time they need to tell their Father something, for fear of earning hours of prayer. The tension builds, with death, bad marriage matches and new babies adding to it, until Rebecca begins to doubt, finally, the wisdom of her elders.
One of the factors that contributes to Rebecca’s doubt is the not-insignificant fact that she, along with the rest of the family group, are meant to act as though their older sister and brother are dead, as well as her “trouble-causing” cousin, who she is continually required to stand up for. I am not Esther tells the story of the siblings and cousin who left the group – which to the family unit means they must be treated as ‘dead’. Rebecca is determined, in her own way, to remember that they existed, but not without guilt over this.
While I won’t tell you what happens, I will say that Rebecca is a strong and admirable character. You feel that Beale really lets you into the mind of somebody who has grown up within a strict environment such as The Children of the Faith. Beale’s books have dealt with cults several times previously, but always from the outside looking in, so this is a refreshing point of view.
A worthwhile read – buy them as a pair, if you haven’t read I am not Esther since it was released in 1998! They have nice contrasting book jackets, to boot.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
I am Rebecca
by Fleur Beale
Published by Random House