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Esme in the Limelight

By Kate Gordon

Reviewed by Helen Gearing

Kate Gordon’s poignant middle-grade novel Aster’s Good, Right Things won the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers in 2021 and its companion title, Xavier in the Meantime, was shortlisted in the same category in 2023. Esme in the Limelight is Gordon’s latest novel set in the same world and is suitable for a slightly older audience (thirteen and above) with topics including ghosting, suicide, and dysfunctional families.
Twelve months ago, an extremely influential older friend broke off all contact with Esme – without any explanation. Since then, 15-year-old Esme has been trying to recover from this rejection and rebuild her life. However, she doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere – except at her small town’s milk bar, where she works part-time. She knows she’s good with customers and food, and dreams of owning the business herself one day.
But nothing about Esme – including this dream – satisfies her high-achieving parents, who want Esme to be more like her older sister Ro: academically gifted, slender, and popular. And when the owners of the milk bar announce they are selling the business, Esme’s last safe place is threatened and her mental health spirals.
Esme in the Limelight provides a gritty exploration of difficult subjects, including emotionally abusive parents and the way the damage they cause can ripple throughout an entire community. Esme’s pain and self loathing are vividly portrayed, as is the fierce love of her older sister and friends (new and old) who cling to Esme in her darkest months, determined she will one day see herself through their eyes.
For me, a particular point of interest in this story are the friendships amongst students of different ages, and an examination of what can make these friendships extraordinary –  or disastrous. Readers who are seeking an emotionally intense story with beautiful language will enjoy this well-crafted novel.

Riveted Press 2024

1942 Amsterdam Ave NY (212) 862-3680

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