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Book Club Discussion #1: The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

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message 1: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Deitrich | 5 comments Mod
This is the official discussion thread for our first book club topic. For further information: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir

Please feel free to post at any time before the official end date of this 'meeting' July 31, 2018. If you're posting about important plot points, please post SPOILER ALERTS. Thank you, and I can't wait to discuss the book with everyone!


message 2: by CurlyG (new)

CurlyG | 3 comments I've asked my library to buy a copy! Fingers crossed they do!


message 3: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Deitrich | 5 comments Mod
Hello everyone! Seeing as I’ve finished The Book of Essie, I’ve compiled some discussion questions to get us started. Please don’t read these if you haven’t finished the book and don’t wish for it to be spoiled.

I repeat: **THESE QUESTIONS CONTAIN SPOILERS!** Readers, ye be warned.

Also, please feel free to take this discussion wherever you wish, but my suggestion is to keep it in the relative ballpark of the questions below and your general thoughts about the book. If you have a lot of feelings, qualms, or nitpicks, the great thing about Goodreads is you can write more detailed reviews and rate the book when you mark it as ‘finished’ in your account.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
1- How do you feel about the characters of Essie, Rourke, Liberty Bell, and Celia?
2- Do you think the author was influenced by shows like 19 Kids and Counting? If you do, what statements are she making about these shows and families? If not, what differences do you see?
3- Considering her place in the Hicks family, do you believe Essie’s role as a ‘silent manipulator’?
4- If Essie had no outside influences affecting her choices, do you think she would’ve chosen a different solution to the issue of her unplanned pregnancy? Why/why not?
5- Most hyper-conservative families are patriarchal in nature, yet Essie describes her mother as running the show when the cameras are off, and it’s Celia who orchestrates Essie’s marriage to Rourke. Do you think in the case of the Duggar family, this is a likely situation?
6- How do you feel about Liberty Bell’s experiences with Quentin Ames’ cult and how he motivated her opinions before and after her sister’s death?
7- What are your opinions about Rourke’s and Essie’s relationship? Do you think it evolved naturally in spite of the brief time period?
8- How do you feel about Essie’s ultimate decision to ‘out’ her brother?
9- Do you think the aftermath/ending was realistic? Why or why not? What do you predict happens to Essie and Rourke after the wedding?

BONUS QUESTION: Which Duggar child do you think is most likely to be/become the ‘Essie’ of their family? What about a ‘Lissa?’ A 'Caleb'?


message 4: by Pdm (new)

Pdm | 3 comments Trying to get this as an ebook, but it’s apparently unavailable in that format until later this week 🙁. Looking forward to reading it!


message 5: by CurlyG (new)

CurlyG | 3 comments Pdm wrote: "Trying to get this as an ebook, but it’s apparently unavailable in that format until later this week 🙁. Looking forward to reading it!"
Ditto. According to the book selling sites I use, the tactile version just released today!


message 6: by Pdm (new)

Pdm | 3 comments Katherine wrote: "Pdm wrote: "Trying to get this as an ebook, but it’s apparently unavailable in that format until later this week 🙁. Looking forward to reading it!"
Ditto. According to the book selling sites I use,..."


Just downloaded this morning!


message 7: by Becky C. (new)

Becky C. | 1 comments I must have been first on the hold list because my copy is waiting for me at the library. Yay!


message 8: by Pdm (new)

Pdm | 3 comments Had to stay up until 3 a.m. to finish reading! Looking forward to discussing it when others have finished it.


message 9: by Kristy (new)

Kristy | 2 comments I'm requesting this book from the library.


message 10: by JB (new)

JB | 3 comments Hello, everyone. Just got my book from the library today. So excited to start. Didn't read the questions because I don't want the spoilers. Thanks for the heads up.


message 11: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Spicer-Stuart | 2 comments I’ve finally got hold of a copy of the book. Only a couple of pages in and I’m hooked!


message 12: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4 comments Q’s 1 & 2 responses:

1) I didn’t feel any of the characters were developed as deeply as I’d have liked. For a book named after the protagonist, I felt I couldn’t get to know Essie as well as I would have liked while her story was unfolding & she, therefore, remained remote and defined more by external circumstances. I wondered what the protagonist might decide to do in the end, but it was more a feeling of curiosity rather than a feeling of rooting for her.

The Liberty character/storyline seemed distracting. I wondered if maybe leaving Libby out, and deepening the relationship between the other characters, could have made for a richer story.

2) Although I was unhappy with the lack of character development, I couldn’t help but wonder if the shallowness of the characters could be seen as a metaphor for the facade that is reality tv. This novel certainly reflects current reality for a subculture, fictionalizes real people’s lived experiences, and I’m sure the author was influenced by news headlines & reality tv. I’m now reading the book “Educated” by Tara Westover, and that, & the factionalized character of Liberty Bell in this story, seem reminiscent of the horrific Ruby Ridge standoff.

Time will tell, but I wonder that this factionalized story might turn out to be mostly forgettable, unfortunately. I’m hoping that it will provide a platform for more discussion of this important topic. Until the resolution, the author offers little to no social commentary, and even then I felt as if she was placing a lot of the burden on women (we must speak up, must work to get our sisters’ stories out there, must decide if telling our truth is worth the unintended consequences it might bring to other, for example); it’s our reality, of course, that we must speak our truth, but I felt the way the author resolved this fictionalized story could be seen a bit problematic.


message 13: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4 comments Q’s 3-9 responses:

3. It’s a challenge for me Essie as anything but a victim. She had been abused all her life, she’s not even 18, and anything she does to empower herself & escape her situation is to be applauded.

4. I think the more she was sequestered the less options for solutions she would have had.

5. There could be “traditional” (or stereotypical) gender-specific spheres handled by the mother that may deal more with emotional care/relationship-related issues. Essie’s marriage seemed a “deal” made by the mothers, and that didn’t surprise me. The male figurehead may be made privy to the situation, and the women might even create/facilitate the facade that it was “his idea,” &/or done with his approval at least.

6. I feel Liberty’s storyline distracted from more than it added to Essie’s narrative; it could have been a separate book. Libby is a plot device, to some degree, helping to move Essie’s story forward; and I can see how Libby’s storyline parallels the real situations with the tragic Ruby Ridge standoff, & FLDS issues, but that’s really all I could think about while Reading Libby’s sections.

7. It seemed once Rourke was told about the abuse Essie faced, at the hands of her brother, he was ok to co-conspiring with her on the facade of a marriage. It didn’t seem enough for him to know Essie understood him, Rourke also needed to understand her situation. That honesty created a sense of intimacy, so in that regard it’s a natural progression.

8. As I indicated in my answer to question 2, I feel the author placed a lot of the burden on Essie, & by extension on women in general (to speak our truth, to decide if it’s worth the sacrifices & unintended consequences it may bring). The ending felt too rushed & I would have liked to see some of the secondary characters support Essie more, helping her to make her decisions (about the pregnancy & publicly outing her brother). In some ways, I appreciated Essie blurting put those shocking lines to the cameras; but no, the epilogue section, especially, felt unrealistic. Essie & Rourke had bonded over a shared experience, but it seemed too much the “happy ending” resolution with them. I doubt their relationship would last very long. And, I would have liked to see what happened with Essie horrid brother & his wife, and some of the other characters. I felt the author should have omitted Libby’s (her backstory at least) & focused on just Essie & Rourke, their families, & the reality tv phenomenon.

Thanks for the great questions! Eager to read others’ responses.


message 14: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4 comments The problem of Libby in the Book of Essie.

I can see how Libby was a plot device, moving Essie’s story forward, but did her storyline add to the novel beyond that; and if so, how?

Libby’s story seemed to parallel the real-life Ruby Ridge tragedy, as well as FLDS leader’s manipulation, but including all that seemed, to me, to overload and distract. Both girls certainly faced abuse under patriarchal religions, but Essie is the protagonist who the book is named after. And, I wonder that the author would have done better to have Essie rely on closer characters (family member/s or even tv crew) to come to the same conclusions.


message 15: by Colleen (last edited Jun 24, 2018 04:24PM) (new)

Colleen Deitrich | 5 comments Mod
Susie wrote: "The problem of Libby in the Book of Essie.

I can see how Libby was a plot device, moving Essie’s story forward, but did her storyline add to the novel beyond that; and if so, how?

Libby’s story..."


I definitely see your point. I feel in a lot of books these days authors try to get secondary characters fully-fleshed-out backstories so their relevance to the main story is understandable, but I feel Liberty Bell's story took up more of the book than Essie's at times, and it did so at the cost of learning more about Essie's family, which I wanted to know about.

I was also a little disappointed that for all the book touched on with regards to the fakeness of reality TV, it glossed over the fact that evangelical families are typically VERY patriarchal. I found that Essie's dad being the more passive and quiet of the two Hicks parents to be jarring without some kind of explanation as to why he lets Celia run the show. I cannot picture Jim Bob giving Michelle the reigns over anything, ESPECIALLY a highly-publicized marriage event involving a daughter.


message 16: by JB (new)

JB | 3 comments Overall, this book was a quick, easy read for me; but while I enjoyed it briefly, it wasn't as satisfying as I like. Perhaps that's because, as others have noted, that we didn't get to know the characters on a more intimate level. When one is raised in a cult, the level of brainwashing and dutiful following runs deep. And while I think few can rise above and escape, it isn't without a lot of struggle and support in the form of counseling, a wide support group (friends, significant others and their families, etc. ) While the author attempted this through Roarke, Libby, and Lissa and a little with Essie not knowing what she should do, it certainly was all wrapped up neatly at the end with everything seemingly resolved. I felt that couldn't have happened in the time span of the story; especially with the age of the characters.Therefore, it wasn't as believable to me.


message 17: by WillBookworm (new)

WillBookworm (wendybookworm) | 1 comments I do agree that Libby's story was too distracting, especially the slow reveal of what had happened to her sister. I didn't feel it was clear enough what had divided her from her family, it was broken up in too many pieces throughout the book.

The fact that Essie's father was so little involved in the running of his empire did seem strange and unrealistic, at least in thinking about the gender-role framework of their belief-system, and what we see from families like the Duggars.

I would have liked more on why Essie decides to keep the baby. That scene in Cuba where she has access to abortion pills...it wasn't enough. As other readers pointed out we are still at arms-length despite the first person point of view.

I think Naomie is definitely Anna, and her first child is named Milicent, which certainly seems like a nod to Mackynzie! I think we can draw from that parallel that the author doesn't see Anna as the victim in her marriage to Josh but as complicit in his actions by her standing by him and continuing to be the dutiful wife and mother she is expected to be.

Someone else above said they felt the burden was placed solely on the women on dealing with sexual assault, and certainly this book seems to be more focused on how women react to and are affected assault that happens to them, or someone they know. We not only have Naomie and Essie's mother who are complicit by their silence, but one could argue Lissa is too because she is not surprised when Essie tells her she's pregnant, she knows exactly who knocked her up (not that I'm actually blaming Lissa, an earlier victim of Caleb's, I just wonder if the author is).


message 18: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Stolar | 3 comments I've probably got a lot of spoilers in my comment, so just consider everything after this sentence to be a spoiler:

1- How do you feel about the characters of Essie, Rourke, Liberty Bell, and Celia?
I liked Essie, and we're supposed to. She's almost too perfect, and it is hard to see how she would really devise all these plans and rebel in such a way.
I loved Rourke, and again, we're supposed to love him. He's almost too perfect of a character, but in this case I didn't really care.
I liked Liberty, but we don't really see how she evolved away from her cult. She seemed to change to sanity pretty suddenly after meeting Mike. I think if this were to be made into a movie, Liberty would have to be the main character, with the focus on her and on Mike, with her "discovering" what Essie's family is like as the plot.

2- Do you think the author was influenced by shows like 19 Kids and Counting? If you do, what statements are she making about these shows and families? If not, what differences do you see?

I absolutely do see this as inspired by the Duggars, et al, but that also gave me my biggest problems with it. The Duggarish cults, and almost all similar cults at this point homeschool their kids and shield them from the real world. I find it hard to believe that all these kids would really be going to colleges like Northwestern, and Yale, and NYU. This was just a huge problem for me because it just so incongruous -- these religious cults eschew real education, and it is hard to imagine a cult like the Duggars, yet one still so grounded in the real world.

3- Considering her place in the Hicks family, do you believe Essie’s role as a ‘silent manipulator’?
That was a stretch, but I had to accept it for the story.

4- If Essie had no outside influences affecting her choices, do you think she would’ve chosen a different solution to the issue of her unplanned pregnancy? Why/why not?
Hard to say -- she almost had the abortion in Cuba, so maybe.

5- Most hyper-conservative families are patriarchal in nature, yet Essie describes her mother as running the show when the cameras are off, and it’s Celia who orchestrates Essie’s marriage to Rourke. Do you think in the case of the Duggar family, this is a likely situation?
I don't think this is really the case in the Duggars, but I could see it being the case in similar families. The Duggar operation is really almost a business, whereas in other families like this, they say the home is the wife's domain, so I could see this as realistic.

6- How do you feel about Liberty Bell’s experiences with Quentin Ames’ cult and how he motivated her opinions before and after her sister’s death?
While interesting, I think this was really too different from Essie's experience and I think it would have been more realistic to have her be in a more similar cult rather than in one of those doomsday conspiracy cults. Having both really takes on a lot, and I'm not sure there was a full enough exploration of each.
7- What are your opinions about Rourke’s and Essie’s relationship? Do you think it evolved naturally in spite of the brief time period?
I liked how the relationship evolved, although I didn't think it was actually very realistic.
8- How do you feel about Essie’s ultimate decision to ‘out’ her brother?
She had to, although this whole thing was a stretch. I think it would have been better to have had the rapist be one of the cult leaders. The molestation within the family ala Josh was different from this, and the brother was raping her even after he had access to an appropriate sexual partner, and that really struck me as odd.

9- Do you think the aftermath/ending was realistic? Why or why not? What do you predict happens to Essie and Rourke after the wedding?
I thought it was kind of ridiculous that she had to make all the decisions about the book the day of the wedding. She could have released it all soon after.
And, it didn't really make sense for the parents to be able to pay off SO many people with such large sums of money. It's not like they had powerball winning type money. They were setting up numerous people for life, throwing money out to people like people throwing out candy at a parade, and I just don't think it was realistic that they had quite this much money. I do n't really see how they'd have more than a few million dollars, and that wouldn't last long if they're constantly giving so much away.

The ending wasn't very realistic, but I found it satisfying nonetheless.


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