High hopes were not disappointed, Eleanor Bassett
14 April, 2021
There is something to be said for sticking with what you know, and doing it well.
Exceptionally well, in Fleur Beale’s case. The acclaimed author of the I am not Esther series has just released a new young adult novel dealing with religious bigotry, questioning faith, and a coming-of-age girl’s place in it. These are running themes in her young adult books. Unlike I am not Esther, which has some political undertones on religious cults, this book feels more mainstream and uncomplicated.
Set in 1895, Molly lives with her brothers and Dad in small-town New Zealand, where family, hard work, and religion reign. Except, Protestantism is prevailing (even in her family!), but Molly is Catholic. Throughout the book, Molly’s faith and her unwavering belief in the Catholic Church is a testament to the female strength of character that Beale is portraying. Molly’s dad wants her to marry but Molly wants to join the Sisters of Compassion order in Whanganui, under Mother Mary Joseph Aubert.
Beale moves slightly away from how she incorporates religion in her previous novels, as she blends fact and fiction in The Calling. She integrates a concept that many older readers can possibly identify with today; the question of what is it that you want, and what is it that others have put on you to want? Sometimes the line is grey and murky. These things can also be combined; it is possible to genuinely want something because someone else initially developed the idea in you. Molly experiences this dilemma when she contemplates whether or not she should become a nun. She also has to grapple with what serving God and religion looks like outside being of a nun or priesthood.
If I found a message in every book I read, this book would have some clear, easy messaging. The one I would focus on though is that living a whole, good life is about the small acts in the day-to-day and not the big acts. Although a reader can take this message away regardless of religion, Beale does integrate religious bigotry into the book against Catholics. It is a bit alien to read, as a modern-day Catholic. An aspect of bigotry that Beale doesn’t explore closely (probably because it could take over the book), is the eternal debate between religions on what is ‘right’ and whose God or Heaven is ‘real’. In the context of this novel, I appreciated Beale not using this trope for integrating the theme of bigotry in the novel. I felt her perspective was honest and inquisitive to what day-to-day small acts of bigotry looked like in 1895; in paradox to the small acts of kindness to living a good life!
When I received this book in the mail I had high hopes and I was not disappointed. For anyone that liked Beale’s other books, or has a passing interest in the period dramas on Netflix, this is worth a read.
- Eleanor Bassett is 18 and lives in Upper Hutt. When she isn’t attempting to be Dr Dolittle or the next Pippa Funnell or the next Molly Huddle; she pores over and philosophises all forms of writing!