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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Compelling New Zealand YA Novel a Cult Classic

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Kirby Greenland is used to "parenting" her flighty mother.  At 14, she's the one who watches the budget, pays the bills, does the shopping, and handles the laundry.  Still, she loves her ditzy guardian and their unconventional but happy life together.  That's why Kirby is so stunned when her mom announces she's going to spend two years on a medical service mission in Africa.  Starting immediately.  Kirby will be moving away from the city and living with Caleb Pilgrim, an uncle she never knew she had.  Distraught, Kirby begs her mother not to go.  To no avail.

Before she can even process what is happening, Kirby has been swept into the Pilgrims' strict religious cult.  Renamed Esther, she is no longer allowed to wear "heathen" clothing, watch television, or read books other than scripture.  Worst of all, as week by miserable week passes by, she hears nothing from her mother.  Kirby now understands why her mom never talked about her own bleak childhood among The Children of the Faith, but why would she abandon Kirby to the same fate?  It makes no sense.  Like her mother before her, Kirby wants nothing to do with the strange cult.  Is escape possible?  She's about to find out ...

I don't know why, but I find cults/cloistered societies absolutely fascinating, so when Stephanie, my go-to girl for all things cultish (in a fictional sense only), recommended I Am Not Esther by Fleur Beale, I knew I had to read it.  While it's not as immersive as other novels of its ilk, it's vivid enough that the reader can really feel Kirby's confusion, frustration, and helplessness as she tries to make sense of her terrifying new living situation.  Kids will relate to those emotions as well as her ensuing identity crisis.  They'll cheer as Kirby fights to stay true to herself and find a way to freedom.  While I didn't love this book and probably won't continue with the series (there are two more novels set in the same religious community, just with different protagonists), I did find it compelling and thought-provoking.  I'd recommend it for teens who are interested in the topic, since it's pointed but not as graphic/disturbing as similar novels.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes, and Gated by Amy Christine Parker)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (no F-bombs), violence, and references (not graphic) to sex, rape, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of I Am Not Esther from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha. 


  1. It's funny, I read "cult classic" in your headline and internalized that it was a thriller. Maybe the cover also made me think that. But it isn't. I also find cults a bit fascinating so may check this one out.

  2. I find cults both creepy and fascinating. There's something about them that makes you keep reading.

  3. I'm not sure this is for me though I'm intrigued by this kind of story. While I usually really like cult books I think I prefer when the POV is on the outside. I feel to bad for Kirby just in the blurb! I don't think I'd make it through the book.

  4. Ooh, Gated is one I haven't read yet, and my library has it as an ebook, so I just put that on my list! I want to say that I Am Not Esther is one of the first cult books I ever read- I know I read it when I lived in Connecticut, and I moved away from there when I was almost 24, so it had to at least be one of the first. It opened up a whole new fascination for me. :) I also enjoyed it being set in New Zealand, since I think up until that point, I'd only read one other book set there, so it was new to me. :)

  5. I know a lot of readers, who love cult books. They kind of creep me out, but I like hearing that the main character was written well, and is able to stay true to herself.

  6. I am also intrigued by Cult books, I have only read a couple but this one sounds interesting. Great review. You made me laugh when I read your FTC comment. 😄😄


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