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Literature / I Am Not Esther

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"I am Kirby. I am not Esther."
Kirby Greenland

I Am Not Esther is a young adult novel about a teenager who is sent to live with her uncle and his family, who follow a restrictive cult, and expect Kirby to braid her hair, dress modestly, cook and clean, and even change her name. Kirby initially rebels, but as the book goes on, begins to lose her sense of self.

The series later on spawned two sequels: "I Am Rebecca" and "Being Magdalene", about two of Kirby's cousins who were brought up in the cult.

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This series contains examples of tropes including:

  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Rachel in the last book. Rebecca isn't actually dead, but leaving the Faith makes her 'dead to them'. Rachel fears for Rebecca's soul and prays every day for her. The twins eventually reunite briefly, and Rachel promises to keep in touch with her.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Zillah among the Faith. She complains that her classmate Sharon always tells her off and her other classmates like the Rule. She constantly complains about the rules she has to follow.
    Rebecca: Zillah's favourite word is no.
  • Always Identical Twins: Rebecca and Rachel. Defied when Rebecca leaves the Faith. At first, she sees Rachel's face in the mirror, but after a while, this changes.
  • Brainwashing: The Children of the Faith believe what their leaders tell them, to a point where they can hardly think for themselves. When Rebecca explains her fears to the police, they consider this brainwashing, and later, she forgets what it feels like to be in the faith.
    Magdelene: You know what it's like to love God with all your heart.
    Rebecca: And none of your brain.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Kirby does this to her mother when she leaves, and later to Uncle Caleb for making her follow the rules of the Faith.
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    • When Naomi keeps staying in bed then insists that Magdelene stays home for picking too many tomatoes because she was wasting them, Magdelene calls her lazy.
  • Cool Big Sis: Rachel and Rebecca to Magdelene. Later on, Magdelene is this to Zillah. Kirby, while not a sister, acts this way towards Magdelene, and Rachel and Rebecca to a point.
    • It is implied that Miriam was this to Magdelene before she left the Faith. Miriam even says that she felt like Magdelene's mother and that leaving her was the worst part about leaving the Faith. Kirby notices that Magdelene cries herself to sleep when she first joins the family.
  • Corrupt Church: And how! Elder Stephen can do anything he wants by saying it is the will of the Lord, and the Faith believes him. This stops when he tries to preach about Naomi being full of sin because she is ill. Her husband snatches the microphone and tells everyone that Elder Stephen is a false prophet. Surprisingly, Naomi herself refuses to stop believing in him.
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  • Creepy Family: Kirby sees the Pilgrims this way, although by the Faith's standards, they are an average family.
  • Cult: The entire series is built around the concept of the Children of the Faith, a Christian cult who lives their lives away from "worldly" influence.
  • Dirty Old Man: Elder Stephen is eventually revealed to be this.
  • Follow in My Footsteps: The children are expected to do the same thing their parents did - marry young and have children. When Rebecca is asked after leaving the faith if she still wants that future for herself, she doesn't know the answer, linking it to what Rachel wanted (and got).
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: Magdelene has to decide whether to forgive her father for not protecting her and Zillah after they leave the Faith. She eventually writes a letter, saying she believes that he truly loved them and she forgives him, but she is still upset that he didn't protect them.
    • Caleb later on tells Daniel that he prays every day for his forgiveness after letting him be beaten up the day he left, wanting to leave the Faith so he could study to become a doctor. Daniel hasn't forgotten it, but he's already forgiven his father.
    • Subverted with Miriam, who refuses to forgive or even acknowledge her father because as far as she is concerned, it's "too little, too late".
  • God Is Evil: The Children of the Faith live in fear of God damning them to hell if they don't follow the cult's rules exactly. Rebecca wonders if that means they will be the only ones allowed into heaven.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Not necessarily physical, but Magdelene spends her life protecting Zillah, and it is hinted that is all that gives her the will to live. Therefore, she lets her spirit be crushed and has somewhat lost her identity, while Zillah retains very clear ideas about herself and those around her.
  • Ill Girl: Magdalene in the third book, but only because she's so stressed that it makes her physically ill. She often describes it as her stomach and/or heart hurting. On one occasion, she digs a hole in the sand, making her hands bleed and doesn't remember how she got to that point. Later on, she is checked over by a doctor and told that it was lucky she left the Faith before she became seriously ill.
  • Important Haircut: Kirby cuts her hair off in protest to being asked to braid it.
    • Miriam and Rebecca both cut their hair when they leave the Faith. Rebecca even asks Kirby to cut her hair.
  • Likes Older Women: The way Abraham is viewed when he marries Talitha, who is four years older than him.
    Carmel: She's so old and she's not even pretty.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: Rory, Ellen's illegitimate son and Kirby's half-brother. He was the result of an Elder who impregnated sixteen-year-old Ellen, causing her to be kicked out of the Faith. He is adopted out, but tries to get back into contact with Ellen, prompting her to leave for a volunteer programme and leaving Kirby with her uncle.
  • Pedophile Priest: Elder Stephen When he attempts to marry sixteen-year-old Rebecca.
  • Religion of Evil: Averted. Talitha says that the Faith has gotten worse over the years, and the only reason her parents haven't left is because they remember how good it used to be.
  • Theme Naming: All of the Children of the Faith have biblical names. Kirby protests against having the name "Esther", which is the first sign that her family is trying to integrate her into the Faith completely.
  • There Are No Therapists: Averted. Miriam and Kirby both stay strong with help from their school guidance counselor. Rebecca also sees a psychologist, and Magdalene sees a retired art therapist who helps her.
  • Your Tradition Is Not Mine: Miriam leaves the Faith because they won't let her paint or draw. By the end, her attitude towards the Faith becomes more and more aggressive.
    • Zillah takes this to new levels, rebelling against almost everything the Rule says, and even daring to go to a worldly school. She settles into enjoying her life outside of the Faith faster than anyone else.
    Zillah: Dumb, stupid Rule.
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