Colorful, in more ways than one ... Albanese’s consideration of inherited guilt also encompasses questions about culpability for forebears’ enrichment through slave trade and labor ... Albanese has tapped into a rich vein of historical fiction that reimagines famous novels from a female character’s point of view ... In addition to her extraordinary talent for embroidery, Isobel is blessed – or cursed, in her late mother’s opinion, who feared its association with sorcery – with what we now know as synesthesia ... Unfortunately, weaving this unusual condition into the narrative comes to feel like a heavy-handed distraction ... Albanese carefully offsets...villains with a wonderful, multiracial cast of supportive, heroic men and women whom Isobel comes to love ... Hester is an inspirational tale about the importance of self-determination and the power of women joining together to overcome oppression in its many forms.
Engrossing ... Hester posits an intriguing theory about the origins of The Scarlet Letter ... Albanese enlivens Hester with many era-specific details ... Much of Hester is about secrets, and Albanese persuasively illustrates how a secret can empower or corrode the spirit of the person carrying it ... In the book’s only structural distraction, Albanese alternates the main story with vignettes of Nat’s and Isobel’s ancestors. Less would have been more, so as not to slow the momentum of an otherwise compelling tale.
... vivid and emotionally rich ... Isobel's synesthesia is a gift as a seamstress, but as Albanese ramps up the tension in a harrowing plot, it becomes evident that her belief in her gift has skewed her sense of others. A world built on visual difference offers us back only our distorted reflections. In order for Isobel to survive, she will have to learn to apprehend what lies beneath the cloth she stitches for others.