Title: Esme’s Wish
Author: Elizabeth Foster
Category: YA Fantasy
Publisher/Date: Odyssey Books/30 October 2017
“A fresh new fantasy of an enchanting world.” – Wendy Orr,author of Nim’s Island and Dragonfly Song.
When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?
But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.
After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about her mother, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.
This fresh, inventive tale, the first in an MG-to-YA series, is an ideal read for 10-14 year olds.
Esme’s Wish recently won first place in the fantasy category of the 2018 Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, which recognises excellence in children’s literature.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via LibraryThing’s Early Readers program. This book has content warnings for parental death/drowning/disappearance (lost at sea), grief, some violence, and some gender binarism.
This book was an okay read for me. The writing itself was really good — the book is on the cusp of being MG and YA, and it felt like it was well-written for its intended audience. I was also really enchanted by the worldbuilding; the alternate world that Esme ends up in where she learns her mother, who was lost at sea some years ago, had apparently spent a lot of time is a really well-developed setting. It’s immersive and leaves you feeling very curious about the people and beings and secrets that are hidden in this world, and the concept and execution of Gifts was something I also really liked. The world itself is really fascinating, and that kept me reading.
I was less entranced by the story itself. This book has a really slow pace and it doesn’t really map out where the story is headed as well as it should. It’s definitely character-driven instead of plot-driven, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but for me it felt that it was a little bit too close to the former than the latter. Additionally, the ending itself felt like it came and went way too quickly, and while I get that this is the first book in a series I still felt like it wasn’t resolved enough and the rush of the ending of the book didn’t feel very satisfying.
The other thing that bothered me was how the gender of the sirens was discussed within the book. The sirens are apparently genderfluid, though the early part of the book claimed “Their sex is … indeterminate” (p. 55). There are at least two places in the book where the genders of the sirens are determined by their pronouns (“she’s not really a he” or “she became a he” or something of that sort), and that really bothered me as a nonbinary trans person because it ignores that pronouns aren’t gender and that there are more than two genders. If you’re sensitive about nonbinary erasure and genders being referred to by pronouns, this is something to consider before reading.
I didn’t mind this book, but it wasn’t the best read for me. If you’re looking for a light fantasy upper MG/lower YA with no romance and solid worldbuilding, this might be the book for you.
Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars