Off My Bookshelf (the book of Essie).

My best friend Helen and I have a bit of a thing about reality television. I don't mean Big Brother or Love Island (although Helen likes those too), I mean reality television that shows people just living their 'real lives' - like Breaking Amish for example, which we watched obsessively for several seasons. I don't know what it is, perhaps we're just inherently nosy, but there's something about being to look through the window of a life that is so drastically different to our own that's kind of addictive.

That's why The Book of Essie appealed to me, I think.

It's about that kind of a show, about the behind the scenes, about what it's like to grow up in the spotlight on one of those shows, your every waking moment broadcast to the world and about how what we see as viewers isn't always the truth. 
It's about Essie, the seventeen year old daughter of an evangelical preacher and the star of a reality tv show about her family. Essie has lived her life on camera - the show has been broadcast since before she was born -, both idolised and hated for her family's fire and brimstone kind of faith. When she finds out she's pregnant, well, it's kind of not the best; its worse still when her Mum finds out; she doesn't sit down with Essie, mother to daughter, she sits down with the producers of the show instead, because this isn't a major event in a teenage girl's life. It's a plot line. Ad can you even imagine. Evey single moment of your life, even the hardest ones, having to be spun like that - to make the best television? I cannot. It made me feel so weird, weirder still knowing that probably if Six for Hick was a real show then we'd have watched it. 
Essie rebels by getting in touch with a super conservative reporter called Liberty Bell (who, by the by, has her own really interesting sub-plot) and arranging to sit down with her, (and this boy she's now seeing, not the father of her baby by the way, but a boy from school who agrees to this whole fake relationship thing because his parents are in a boat load of debt and Essie is in a position to promise him literal millions) for a tell-all expose.

I liked it a whole lot.

I mean, sure. There were things I wish had been different - I wanted more of an insight into the whole tv show side of things for example, because I am so fascinated by what that life might be like, and it would have been interesting to see more of the Hicks family dynamic, or what their religion was all about; these were things that the story was built upon but that I felt we only really got to scratch the surface of but overall, this was such a good read. Some of the secondary characters and some of the background could have been a little bit more fleshed out, for me. That's a minor niggle though, because I was so engrossed by this book.

Essie is an incredible character - she's lived under the shadow of Six for Hicks and her overbearing mother for her entire life, and so really, the way she finds the courage and the strength to stand up against all of that and speak her truth is nothing short of remarkable and the plan she hatches to make it all happen makes me want to give her a high five. It's just so...brave. This is the girl whose first bra - the purchasing of which was done with her Dad to make him seem more human to his viewers - was broadcast to the nation. To be that level of famous, to be living in a world where everybody you meet thinks they know you and to have the guts to stand up and turn all of that on its head. It's pretty remarkable.

It's a captivating read this one, moving bravely from tough topic to tough topic  - and we cover a lot here let me tell you: religion, celebrity, teen pregnancy, sexuality, abuse, it is all going on and at the same time there's this subtle exploration of our fascination with this kind of television that makes you really question how complicit we are in the lives they live.

It's emotionally driven and whilst super interesting, it also goes to some pretty dark places; Essie's world is messed up like you have no idea and again, this is such an interesting look at the way we treat our  daughters versus the way we treat our sons. There's a slow build storyline and a gradual reveal but still, despite the lack of pace, I was hooked, just enough happening to keep me turning page after page after page.

Such a good read this one, and I am so so glad I read it.