Beale, F. (2014). I am Rebecca. Auckland, New Zealand: Random House. [contemporary realism]
I Am Rebecca is the sequel to Fleur Beale’s hugely popular novel I Am Not Esther.
It continues the story of the Pilgrim family – though this time the story is told from the point of view of Rebecca, one of the 13-year-old twins that has been born and raised in the strict fundamentalist Christian sect called Children of the Faith. The story begins with the family and the rest of their community moving to the South Island to join a larger group, allowing the community to become more independent and separate from their “worldly” neighbours.
We follow Rebecca, her twin sister, Rachel, and their friends as they go through the exciting, yet nerve-wracking, time of becoming betrothed at the age of fourteen. An exciting time because the girls wish to fulfill their godly duties, but nerve-wracking because they know they have no choice in who they will be ordered to marry.
This novel is a harrowing read for feminists, as the Children of the Faith use selective teachings from the Bible to maintain control over their followers. They also use “The Rule”, a set of laws developed by the leaders, to keep order – though these rules seem mainly concerned with controlling the minds and bodies of women.
However, the beauty of this story being narrated by Rebecca is that the details of life in the sect are never presented in a judgmental way. Rebecca is simply stating the way things are – it is all she knows – so it is not a better or worse way of life, it just is. This is also what makes the struggle Rebecca goes through so poignant. She has lived by “The Rule” and believed in the sect’s teachings, yet that is not enough to protect her from them.
The novel’s ending is perhaps the most powerful part of the book for me. I could just imagine the impact this scene would have if it occurred in real life. And it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it.
I highly recommend this book to everyone – in fact, I think it should be compulsory reading so we can develop a society more understanding and empathetic of difference.
Thanks to Random House for supplying me with a copy of this book.
Note: this review was first published on the Random House website and my Goodreads page.