** spoiler alert ** Title: I Am Not Esther
Author: Fleur Beale
Publisher: Hyperion Paperback Year: 1998
# of pages: 250 Genre: Fiction
Reading level Interest level: 10th-11th graders
Potential hot lava: Language, religious ideas (cults)
General response/reaction: I chose this book because the synopsis sounded amazing and immediately caught my attention. I assumed with the title “I Am Not Esther” and having a religious theme throughout the book that it was going to somehow parallel the story of Esther in the Christian bible. However, this book was completely opposite of my assumption and I think I liked it more for this reason. It was an incredibly easy read and took me about a day to finish. The chapters are a little long winded, but they are jammed packed with a fast-paced story line. I found myself sympathizing and relating with the characters in this book. I think it would be a great read for students, especially if you are covering different religions or new age culture. I thought the main character, Kirby, was a strong character that girls could look up to and relate to, and Daniel was a strong male character guys could relate to. I also feel as if this book could be read by both genders and receive the same amount of appreciation. I cannot find anything negative to say about this book, I absolutely loved it!
Subjects, Themes, and Big Ideas:
Coming of Age
Importance of staying true to who you are
Kirby Greenland/Esther Pilgrim- a bright 14 year old girl who has been taking care of her mother since she can remember. Her world is flipped upside down when her mother leaves her to stay with her uncle and aunt who change her name to Esther. She is forced to conform to new ways of thinking and believing. She struggles to know who she really is.
Caleb Pilgrim- Kirby’s uncle who is the head of the household and main disciplinarian
Daniel Pilgrim- the oldest of the Pilgrim children and Kirby’s confidant who is struggling with the decision to leave his family and pursue his career.
Magdalene “Maggie” Pilgrim- the youngest of the Pilgrim children, she is very close to Kirby and the main reason Kirby puts up with her uncle’s strict ways.
Mrs. Fletcher- Kirby’s guidance counselor and main supporter throughout her adjustments to a new way of life.
Miriam Pilgrim- the second oldest of the Pilgrim children who is “dead” to the family and their religion.
Kirby Greenland is perfectly happy with the life she is living. Sure she could probably think of better things to do, than follow after her mother and making sure she pays bills and does laundry, but all in all she’s happy. Kirby’s life is turned upside down when her mother tells her that she is going to live with her uncle while she goes to Africa as a nurse. Kirby is forced to leave her happy-go-lucky lifestyle and adapt to her Uncle Caleb’s strict religious rules. He immediately changes her name to Esther Pilgrim (because everyone under the “rule” must have a biblical name) and forced to wear clothing that covers all of her skin and her hair in a braid. She is now considered a daughter of “The Children of the Faith”, a very strict Christian cult. Whenever Esther doesn’t follow the “rule” or its teaching, she is placed in a solitary room and forced to learn bible verses, or be prayed over for hours until repents. Her uncle refuses to give her information about her mother’s whereabouts or read letters she has sent to him. Daniel helps Esther anyway he can, by giving her letters from her mother his father has kept from her, and giving her simple advise to be able to cope with this change. During a heated debate, Daniel and Esther are forced out of the rule and are “dead” to “The Children of the Faith” therefore banished from the society they knew and are dead to the younger children whom they are close to. Even though Kirby is excited to be out of the confined rules, she finds herself struggling with her identity. Is she Kirby Greenland or Esther Pilgrim? She is able to come to the conclusion that she is really Kirby Greenland after making amends with her mother and seeing a television special of “The Children of the Faith” moving farther away from society and the wickedness of the world. This movement provides Kirby with closer and her rebirth.
Strengths (including reviews and awards):
New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards—1999 Honour Award
Premier New Zealand Bestseller—Silver Award
“A gripping psychological survival story that will quickly get and firmly keep readers invested”—The Horn Book
A Bank Street Best Book of the Year
Drawbacks or other cautions:
*Give the students a Problematic Situation: What would you do if your mother and father left you to live with a relative that you never met and gave you a different name (identity) without you having any say in the matter?
*Anticipation Guide that would ask students hypothetical questions about different situations in the book
*Debate about what would consider a cult. Are they all bad or good?
While reading the book
*Journal about their opinions about different chapters, or main events that happen throughout the novel
*Class discussion about the “The Children of the Faith” beliefs and how they effect the actions and lifestyles of the Pilgrim children and how it differs from their own lifestyle.
* Unsent Letter to any of the characters in the novel with their advise or thoughts how the character handled themselves in the novel.
* Character flow chart that highlights their appearance, personality, views from others, strengths and weaknesses (this might be later used as a outline for a character analysis writing assignment)
* Debate whether Daniel or Kirby should have stayed or left the “rule”
*Budding Filmmaker—making sure the students create a cast, choose scenes, and soundtrack
*Culture activity- have students brainstorm about religions they know of that are similar to “The Children of Faith”.
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Last fall, I was so sure my country would do the right thing that I didn’t even bother to stay up to watch the results of the election.
It was the beginning of my senior year, and as I applied to college, I found myself thinking that I had to find ways to accurately describe who I was without upsetting anyone. I didn’t think I could be honest about my anger, my mistrust, and my pain.
I was wrong both times.
I know now that speaking out is resistance.
It is resistance to which I am committed, because Nov. 9, 2016, is a day I will never forget. I remember not being able to breathe as I checked the results while my undocumented mother slept nearby. My reality means she might not come home one day.
I have fought for equal representation alongside my Speech & Debate team throughout high school, but this year it matters the most.
Months before anyone considered Donald Trump a serious presidential contender, I began writing an Original Oratory to compete at Speech & Debate tournaments on the local and national circuit. In Original Oratory, competitors write a personal speech about a topic they care deeply about. It was the first time I had ever dedicated time to openly expressing my feelings about immigration and racism.
Delivering this speech every weekend at tournaments is what the resistance looks like.
It was actually a week before the election when I decided to rewrite my college essay because I would not submit a watered-down version of myself to anyone.
I wrote about how I learned to speak English alongside my then-25-year-old mom. I explained how I resented being Mexican for most of my life, and how growing closer to my white teachers made me more distant from my brown mother. How I wanted to be white, but I was not. I wrote about my journey: tutoring brown-skinned Spanish-speaking children and learning to love the depths of my Nahuatl soul.
I refuse to step back into the shadows that the administration and its supporters want me to stay in. Nuestra vozcuenta. Our voice matters.
I was never surer of that than when I saw now-President Trump’s campaign split this country in half.
On Inauguration Day, I was at school, and my teammates and I were getting ready for a national tournament at Columbia University. We circled up and delivered our speeches at the same time a man who did not believe in us took office. The next day, my team of mostly women of color had our own Women’s March when we placed as double finalists at Columbia.
This presidency has opened a door for hate and bigotry, but my team and I have countered it at every turn. Columbia. Emory. Pennsbury. U Penn. Harvard. We have been finalists everywhere we have gone.
In March, our team doubled its number of students who are qualified for the New York Speech and Debate State Championship. We are bringing the much-needed voices of marginalized communities to the world of competitive speaking.
Now, how do I accurately describe myself? I am the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Trumpland and I fear for the lives of people who look like me. My father was deported when I was 11. My existence is everything our president has said he hates, but that has not stopped me.
In December, out of more than 5,000 applicants, I was one of 871 accepted early to Yale University, where I intend to study in the Race, Ethnicity, and Migration program starting in the fall.
I, alone, am not the face of the resistance. Nosotros, todos, lo somos. To my Mexican hermanas y hermanos, if I can do it, so can you. You are not alone. This is what the resistance looks like.
Esther Reyes is a senior at Achievement First Brooklyn High School in New York.
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