Summary: Esther is a Jewish girl living in the 1700s, a time when both Jewish people and women are controlled and undervalued. An outsider in her own community due to the nature of her birth, Esther uses a shipwreck to escape her family after learning her father is going to marry her off to Red, the rag picker. She is rescued by Philippe, a sailor, who helps her get on her feet by finding her a place to stay and work. When things go wrong though, Esther transforms herself into a boy and runs away. Thus begins a series of adventures that lead her to New France, where she must confront the choice she is offered to convert to Catholicism and stay in Quebec or be sent back to France as a prisoner.
Number of Pages: 314
Age Range: 15-17
Review: From the beginning, Esther has been like a caged bird in her conservative Jewish family. Paying for the sins of her father, she is promised to the local rag picker after she comes home unsupervised one night and causes a scandal in their close community.
This one event starts a sequence of events that help guide Esther to the life she is meant to live, if she is brave enough to do so. Good thing bravery, integrity, and sheer grit are characteristics Esther possesses in spades, along with the ability to think outside the box.
I like what Sharon McKay is doing here. She took the bare bones of the story of the first Jewish person in New France, and created this amazing character who faces incredible situation after incredible situation with heart and determination. It reminded me a little of The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi.
What I enjoyed the most was that even though Esther leaves her family and her childhood home, she takes with her the traditions, beliefs and lifestyle that make her who she is. I loved the last quote I have from her in my Memorable Quotes section, because it shows her continuing strength of character. Near the beginning of the novel she tries to tell her father that she wants wings instead of roots, but when she gets her wings it is her roots that ground her as needed. They serve as a perch that she is able to launch herself from and rest on again and again.
Esther is an adventurous read for mid female teens, but definitely for a more committed reader.
“‘It is your faith that gives you roots, my daughter,’ Papa shouted from below.
‘It’s not roots I want, Papa,’ Esther whispered. ‘It’s wings.'” – conversation between Esther and her father from Esther by Sharon E. McKay, page 66
“Once caged, nothing lived long.” – from Esther by Sharon E. McKay, page 155
“Esther snatched the keys off the table and bent down to unlock the strong box, all the while trying to stop the flow between her legs. Her hands shook. After everything, after all her efforts … It was a betrayal, her own body was betraying her in a way she had never imagined.” – Esther from Esther by Sharon E. McKay, page 185
“‘I have learned that I can live without love and food and even shelter, but I cannot live without hope. In my father’s house there was only certainty. This I knew in that instant when my hand was poised to rap at my father’s door. I knew then that I could never, willingly, return.'” – Esther from Esther by Sharon E. McKay, page 203
“What did it matter what faith she practised? Was there not one God? Was the God of Moses not the God of Jesus? Were not the Jews, Christians and Muslims all the children of Abraham?” – from Esther by Sharon E. McKay, page 302
“‘Monseigneur, I have learned that fate and choice are mocked by chance. I pray in my heart that God controls that which is out of our control. And when the next world comes I shall say that I have lived my life as best I could, and I give to the Creator all that I have learned, and that I remain forever in my heart, if not always in deed, a Jew.'” – Esther from Esther by Sharon E. McKay, page 305
“It will not be long before I stand awaiting judgment before the Lord my God. Would that I had learned from Esther Brandeau that life is an endless list of possibilities. Would that I had known what this girl knew all along, that no matter how many times circumstances might change our direction, God’s greatest gift is the freedom to choose.” – Guy de Bougainville from Esther by Sharon E. McKay, page 312