Published by Knopf on June 12, 2018
Genres: Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Religion
Pages: 336 •Format: E-Book •Source: Overdrive
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?
The Book of Essie had been on my radar for a while because if you know me, you know I am fascinated with any contemporary books that tackle the topic of religion. I’m also a sucker for reality TV so this novel was right up my alley as it focuses on Essie, a teenager who has grown up in a very conservative, religious household with her pastor father, controlling mother and various siblings, a life which is all captured on the reality tv show “Six for Hicks.” As expected, there’s more than meets the eye with the Hicks family and Essie’s story begins with her pregnant and everyone deciding how to handle the situation and avoid scandal.
I have to say that I loved Essie. A Slytherin to her core, she’s someone who has grown up in a very stressful environment what with everything in her life being subject to being filmed and manipulated but instead of becoming a victim, she’s quietly studied her parents and producers for years and has learned how to scheme, manipulate, and pull the strings behind the curtain just like the rest of them. While this may not make her the most “likeable” protagonist, it certainly makes her one with agency and determination even with in horrible situations and she exudes a different kind of strength than most protagonists. I enjoyed watching her “play the game” and slowly guiding her parents, producers and audience into the narrative she wants to create around her pregnancy as a means to finally escaping to freedom.
While the novel is heavy on family politics and small town drama, it also takes a much darker turn toward the end (which I was expecting but admittedly still horrified by). The plot twist was revealed in such a dramatic fashion that had me completely immersed in the story, but then the book pretty much ended! There were a few pages that jumped ahead in time to a few years after to see how Essie was doing, but I really didn’t feel I received very much closure as a reader or got to see the aftermath of such a huge bomb dropping so late in the book, which is the reason I rated the story 4 stars instead of 5.
Overall: An extremely compelling read about the sinister secrets behind reality tv and the devastating power of ignorance in both religion and family, The Book of Essie is an intense yet addictive story.
The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand
Also by this author: My Lady Jane
Published by HarperTeen on October 24, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal
Pages: 400 •Format: Audio Book •Source: Scribd
On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she'd become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.
And then she died.
Now she's stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge--as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.
Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly's afterlife has been miserable.
But this year, everything is about to change. . . .
It took me a ridiculously long time to finish this book because around the holidays I wasn’t listening to audio books that often, but I’m so glad I finished this one! The Afterlife of Holly Chase is a really fun, irreverent retelling of A Christmas Carol that focuses on Holly Chase, a failed “scrooge” who in her afterlife must work for A Christmas Carol inspired corporation called “Project Scrooge” as their Ghost of Christmas Past.
There’s so many things I loved about this story. The corporate setting was hilarious in a fantasy/paranormal/retelling sort of setting (really not sure what to classify this one as!) and all to real at times now that I’m a working adult. I enjoyed reading about a protagonist who was really not that great of a person- Holly’s grown some by the end of the novel but she starts off as really terrible and is really just a selfish person at the end of the day but that doesn’t make her incapable of positive attributes too. I also loved her sarcastic and very teenage sounding narrative that always held a ton of contempt and distaste and a sprinkling of spoiled brat- she really reminded me of the Gossip Girl-era protagonists of the early 2000s.
Unfortunately, the book lost its way for me a little at the end- I’m still not 100% what happened and it was all wrapped up pretty conveniently. There’s also a LOT of questions I still have, especially about the secondary characters (what did Blackpool do as a human? Was Dave a former Scrooge? Were the non-ghost employees humans who were alive or were they dead and stuck in purgatory too)? Yet it was still a fun and very creative take on the source material (and it’s very AWARE that its based on A Christmas Carol which is fun).
Overall: One of the better YA Christmas books I’ve read and truly unique, The Afterlife of Holly Chase was not what I was expecting but I’m glad I read it!