Esme in the Limelight by Kate Gordon

Esme in the Limelight by Kate Gordon

If you know me, you will know that Kate Gordon is one of my favourite authors and human beings. If you haven’t read any of the books in this beautiful companion series, you must run out now and get them all. Anyone who has read the other books will have been waiting eagerly for this latest story – Esme in the Limelight.

We were introduced to Esme back in the beginning, with the 2021 CBCA award-winning Aster’s Good Right Things. Esme worked in the milkbar and was an important secondary character, with Aster telling us about her ‘blue hair like the secret feathers some ducks have’ in the opening sentences. It’s from that moment, that you know these books are going to be something special. So really, Esme has been there all along, just waiting for her moment in the limelight.

In the second book we heard from Aster’s sweet friend Xavier, in Xavier in the Meantime, which was shortlisted in the CBCA 2022, and in book three, from the feisty Indigo, in Indigo in the Storm. In Esme’s story, we learn her inner thoughts, insecurities and ideas about the world. With each book, as I closed the cover, I said to myself, ‘That’s my favourite in the series.’ And then I read the next one! Esme in the Limelight is quite probably my favourite. That is of course, until book five comes out!

Here’s the blurb from the publisher, Riveted Press.

Esme doesn’t like the girl she sees in the mirror. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough. Not smart enough or talented enough. Nothing at all like her big sister, Ro.
Then, a new friend comes into her life—a friend who wants Esme to be exactly who she is, or so Esme thinks.
For a while, Esme likes who she sees in the mirror—even if it never really feels like her. But then, she messes up. Her friend goes away, leaving her alone. There’s no-one to help cover up the fact that she is a talentless nobody whose only real dream is to work in a milk bar—which will never be good enough for her controlling mother.
When two new friends try to help her see the real Esme again, she can’t risk it happening all over again. She can’t be their friend. And she definitely can’t let them convince her to be in the school play …
School plays are for girls like Ro. So, of course she gets a part. Because she is perfect. But what if Ro wasn’t as perfect as she seems? What if she needs Esme’s help?
And what if the real Esme Rogers is nothing like who anybody says she is, but a creature of her own making, who can be more than any of them imagine … even if it makes her mother mad.
A book about finding friendship in unlikely places and finding yourself in even stranger ones …
And, most importantly … ice cream.

Esme is fifteen and works in the milk bar. She makes the meanest milkshakes and dreams of running the milk bar one day, believing that this dream is too small for her mother, who treats her as if she doesn’t matter, as if she is worthless. Esme doesn’t believe in herself or like herself very much. And as she grapples with an event that she thinks was her fault, she falls deeper and deeper into depression and self-loathing, unable to see a way out. We move back and forth in time, seeing some of the events that led to the current crisis, and gaining more understanding and insight into Esme.

Her friends Aster, Xavier and Indigo are there for her through this difficult period in her life, along with a couple of new friends, who Esme doesn’t think would truly be interested in her, because, who would be? All the while, her dazzling, bright sister Ro is being loved and doted on by her parents. Ro shines so much light that Esme is blinded and can’t see that Ro sees her, that Ro loves her and is there for her too. When disaster strikes and her dreams of running the milk bar are shattered, Esme spirals and her friends rally around her. And as she begins to unwrap the Esme Rogers she wants to be, she begins to believe that perhaps, even the smallest of dreams can be enormous.

Kate Gordon is a master at writing stories filled with beautiful prose, raw emotions and difficult topics, using a delicate hand. She gets inside the head and heart of her characters, drawing you into their world from the beginning. I was hooked on Esme from the opening chapter and connected with so many parts of this story, as will younger readers. Esme is in year 9 at school, but only attending part-time, due to some issues she had earlier in her life, which we learn about as the story unfolds. As well as her dreams to run the milk bar one day, she longs to be in the school musical, but doesn’t have the courage to audition – does she have the courage to stand up for herself and do something brave to change the direction of her life?

There are many difficult issues covered in this story including depression, eating disorders, family relationships, friendship, trust and self-esteem. Esme has shaped herself on the advice of a friend she loves deeply, rather than on her own desires and preferences, showing how easy it is for young people, (and in fact all of us), to follow the crowd and lose ourselves in the process. Kate has cleverly used verse to emphasise Esme’s inner thoughts at various points of the story, and the way these words are shaped across the page add power and an urgency of movement to these thoughts.

Esme is a few years older than Aster, Xavier and Indigo, but they are a strong support crew for her, and it is lovely to spend time with them again and see them band together. I would recommend this one for ages 12+ and readers of all ages will find things they connect to in Esme’s story. We also see a little of Ro and I am wondering if her story will be the next one we see from Kate. I would love to know more about her, as she is clearly struggling with her own issues and is such a lovely young woman who becomes pivotal in Esme’s life, taking ‘baby steps’ together.

I am sure that this book will win all the awards next year. Kate is truly one of our greatest Australian children’s and young adult authors and each book she delivers is a gift.

You can get your copy now from bookshops and at Riveted Press.


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