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  • Published: 2 March 2012
  • ISBN: 9781869799076
  • Imprint: RHNZ Children's
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224
  • RRP: $19.99

I Am Not Esther

A classic bestseller that's been in print for over 20 years, this gripping YA thriller follows a teenage girl caught in a religious cult.

A classic bestseller that's been in print for over 20 years, this gripping YA thriller follows a teenage girl caught in a religious cult.

Imagine that your mother tells you she's going away. She is going to leave you with relatives you've never heard of - and they are members of a strict religious cult. Your name is changed, and you are forced to follow the severe set of social standards set by the cult. There is no television, no radio, no newspaper. No mirrors. You must wear long, modest clothes. You don't know where your mother is, and you are beginning to question your own identity.

I am not Esther is a gripping psychological thriller written by New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards-winning children's writer Fleur Beale. In Esther she creates an enthralling and utterly compelling portrait of a teenager going through her worst nightmare.

Winner of the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-loved Book 2009.

  • Published: 2 March 2012
  • ISBN: 9781869799076
  • Imprint: RHNZ Children's
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224
  • RRP: $19.99

About the author

Fleur Beale

Fleur Beale is the author of many award-winning books for children and young adults — she has now had more than 40 books published in New Zealand, as well as being published in the United States and England. Beale is the only writer to have twice won the Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved Book: with Slide the Corner in 2007, and I Am Not Esther in 2009. She won the Esther Glen Award for distinguished contribution to children’s literature for Juno of Taris in the 2009 LIANZA Children’s Book Awards. Fierce September won the YA category in the 2011 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards and the LIANZA Young Adult Award in 2011. In 2012 she won the Margaret Mahy Medal for her outstanding contribution to children’s writing and in 2015 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit. In 1999, Beale was Dunedin College of Education’s Writer in Residence. A former high-school teacher, Beale lives in Wellington.

One of Beale’s most well-known books is I Am Not Esther, the story of a girl who is sent to live with relatives who are members of a strict religious cult. It’s a gripping psychological thriller that won an Honour Award in the 1999 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards and features in the latest volume of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, produced by UK publisher Quintessence. It was reissued in 2012 and has been in print since first published. Magpies identified it as a novel that ‘will have relevance wherever there are attempts to control the minds and emotions of children’.

The sequel, I Am Rebecca, was published in 2014 to much acclaim — it was named a 2015 Storylines Notable Young Adult Fiction book; was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Young Adult category, and won the LIANZA Librarian's Choice Award. In a review for the Otago Daily Times, Rene Nol wrote that, ‘Good writing can reveal our prejudices as being the shallow things they are. Really good writing does that and entertains the reader at the same time. Such is the case with New Zealand author Fleur Beale's latest book, I am Rebecca...This is a tension-filled, thrilling read that affirms genuine belief while exposing hypocrisy.’
Being Magdalene followed in 2015, bringing the series to a riveting conclusion. Awarding the novel five out of five stars for Tearaway, Tierney Reardon avowed that ‘Magdalene is my favourite book in the series; the ending seemed to tie things off so perfectly’, and in a featured review for the New Zealand Listener Ann Packer judged that ‘The remarkable success of I Am Not Esther and its sequels lies in Beale's insightful ability to see shades between black and white…While exposing the hypocrisy of those Elders claiming divine guidance, Beale allows other church adults to show compassion, wisdom and discernment in a fine balance.’ Being Magdalene was awarded a Storylines Notable Book Award in 2016.

The bulk of Beale’s writing is set in the contemporary world. Topics range from boys who fix up an old car to bash around a paddock with, a girl who must take over her father’s business until he’s well enough to take back the reins, to a story about a 15-year-old boy who is a top kart racer.

The New Zealand Listener has called Beale ‘one of the most consistently accomplished and versatile writers for teenagers in the country’.

A ‘strong storyteller’ (Trevor Agnew, The Press) who is ‘consistently engaging’ (Frances Grant, Weekend Herald), Beale is a popular participant in the Writers in School programme, testifying that she is ‘in touch with the modern young market’ (Northern Advocate).

Her entry in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature noted that her characters are ‘intensely aware of their difficulties, social troubles and shortcomings’, and in so doing she exhibits ‘her understanding of teenagers, male and female, and ability to motivate even reluctant readers’.

Acclaimed as ‘a riveting futuristic story’, in the National Library’s Services to Schools review, Juno of Tariswas likened to Bernard Beckett’s Genesis and the ‘classic’ The Giver by Lois Lowry. The reviewer concluded: ‘it is a brilliant story that completely enthralled me’.

The sequel, Fierce September, was named one of The New Zealand Listener’s ‘50 Best Children’s Books of 2010’, and North and South praised its narrative for its ‘compelling authenticity’, while the Otago Daily Times wrote: ‘The writing is tight; the characterisation credible, and the narrative exciting.’ The book’s innovative technique of opening each chapter with a blog commentary on events was widely acclaimed, the reviewer in Magpies commenting that the ‘cross-media technique of combining online blogs with traditional text…brings the book vividly into our world’.

Reviewing Heart of Danger, the concluding volume in the Juno trilogy, in New Zealand Books, Angelina Sbroma identified Juno as a ‘protagonist of wish-fulfilment fantasy in the grand tradition’, but for all that is still a ‘rounded character’. The book left Bob Docherty requesting a fourth volume..

Also by Fleur Beale

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Praise for I Am Not Esther

Wellington's Beale is one of the most consistently accomplished and versatile writers for teenagers in the country

New Zealand Listener

a strong storyteller

Trevor Agnew, The Press

[Fleur Beale is] consistently engaging

Frances Grant, Weekend Herald [Canvas]

Sort of a Handmaid's Tale for the junior high set, New Zealander Beale's engrossing novel peers into the restricted world of the Children of the Faith, a rigidly traditional (and fictional) Christian sect. Resourceful Kirby has never known any family aside from her impractical mother, Ellen. When Ellen abruptly makes plans to fulfill her lifelong dream of working with refugees in Africa, she sends Kirby to her long-estranged brother, the strict and pious Caleb, and his wife and children. Renamed Esther ("The women of our faith all have biblical names. As do the men," explains soberly clad Aunt Naomi), Kirby chafes at the restrictions forced on her by her newfound kin: they dictate her style of dress and hair, forbid slang and even contractions, and resolutely discourage any ambitions aside from an early marriage and plenty of children. Angry and confused though she is, Kirby becomes attached to her newfound cousins, in particular the vulnerable five-year-old Maggie (Magdalene) and teenage Daniel, who is himself struggling to reconcile his interest in becoming a doctor with the community's mores. Though several plot twists seem to exist mostly to serve the novel's decidedly anti-fundamentalist stance (only dissenter Kirby, for example, has the courage to defy her uncle and get her ailing pregnant aunt the help she needs), this tale still has more than enough power to chill.

US Publishers Weekly

This is a disturbing tale about a girl put into a completely new environment and how she deals with it. Beale's writing is excellent...I had a difficult time putting this one down.

Kathy Brummond, BookReview.com

Kirby, 14, comes home from school to find her usually good-natured "dizzy flake" of a mom crying. The mystery deepens when her mother announces her intention to leave New Zealand almost immediately to work as a nurse in Africa, and ships the teen off to live with an uncle she's never met. Caleb and his family are members of a sect called the Fellowship of the Children of the Faith, and their house has no mirrors, no TV, no radio, no newspapers, and virtually nothing to read but the Bible. Her uncle renames her "Esther" and though she is by turns feisty and irreverent, she quickly learns that everyone suffers when she breaks the rules because discipline consists mostly of grueling prayer sessions that all family members are required to attend. Beginning to find her place among the six siblings, Kirby cannot understand why no one will talk about another sister, Miriam, who died just four weeks earlier. She enjoys increasingly unguarded conversations with her cousin Daniel, who secretly wishes to continue his education and become a doctor, but is horrified by the rigidity and brutality of this male-dominated fundamentalist society. The author builds tension well, introducing layers of conflict, revealing elements of the plot realistically and plausibly. The climax shocks and the resolution feels right. While understanding the comfort and peace that some believers feel, in the end it is clear to Kirby that such strict beliefs limit people, dictating too much of what can't be done instead of allowing personal initiative and creativity to flourish.

US School Library Journal

an author who is in touch with the modern young market

Northern Advocate

Fleur Beale is a great author, as if you yourself were experiencing the life changing adventure.

Evelyn Barber, aged 13, Hookedonbooks.org.nz

Awards & recognition

Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award for a much-loved book

Awarded  •  2009  •  Winner, Storylines Gaelyn Gordon Award

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Teachers' notes

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