Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett, is the kind of book that I had to devour in marathon sessions, and then put down and say: “Wow, what did I just read?”
Elvis Babbit is an eleven-year-old girl with a head for facts and a particular interest in zoology. She knows that most people think owls mean wisdom, but that Romans were evil and would drink the blood of babies. She also knows that she should plan to grieve for her mother, who died tragically during an episode of sleep swimming, for eighteen months.
But that eighteen-month period is also full of other life lessons for Elvis Babbit. Her father and sister each mourn in their own way, with her sister exhibiting her own sleepwalking episodes, and her father taking to wear their mother’s bathrobe. Elvis, well, she’s developed her own theory about the strange cause of her mother’s death, and as she investigates she finds comfort in the people, and animals, of Freedom, Alabama.
Rabbit Cake left me with so many emotions that I don’t even know where to start with this book. There is so much to like, and so much to laugh about. Here are some things I loved about this book:
No Romance or Thriller Gimmick
The experience of reading Rabbit Cake was different than reading one of the many mysteries I’ve reviewed recently, because while I was addicted to this story, it wasn’t that I was waiting for a big twist, I genuinely enjoyed spending time reading about The Babbits, so much so, that I didn’t want this book to end. Yes, there were questions that I wanted answers to, but overall, I just wanted to see what Elvis and her sister were up to.
Annie Hartnett’s writing is beautiful! I absolutely love ten-year-old Elvis Babbit, who narrates the book. She’s wise beyond her years, which gives the book’s prose a fresh jovial tone that I would say vaguely reminds me of Emma Donoghue’s Room.
The Cast of Complex Characters
Hartnett also surrounds Elvis with a delightfully complicated family. While Elvis’ family is odd, it colors her life and gives us an amazing cast of characters to work with. The interaction between Elvis and the characters in the book are what drive the story.
Chief amongst their traits is how they each deal with the loss of Eva. Her father copes with grief by wearing their mother’s lipstick, and Lizzie goes through a period of “sleep eating” that seems almost as comical as it is creepy. For Elvis, that means finishing her mom’s book on the sleep cycle of animals.
Even the characters that come in and out throughout the book are interesting. None of them felt flat and none of their actions or dialogue felt forced.
The “grief timeline” given to Elvis by a guidance counselor keeps the book moving at a steady pace so I don’t feel like the book ever lags on any one particular incident. Even with the brisk pace, it feels like the characters are fully formed.
The instances that Elvis recounts throughout two year period the book spans are a mix of funny and sad moments. At times I found myself laughing for several pages only to later find myself sobbing my eyes out.
If you are looking for a family drama, narrated by a precocious child I think Rabbit Cake is the book for you. It’s got great characters, it’s funny and sad, and it’s just very beautifully done. I highly recommend it.