Monday, February 3, 2014

When God was a Rabbit - Book Review

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When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman focuses on the narrator, Elly, and her close and complicated relationships with her brother, Joe, and best friend, Jenny Penny. The narrative explores the bonds of friendship and family and the secrets that are shared, and not shared,  between them. The first half spans Elly's childhood as she grows up in Essex and later Cornwall in the 1970s, while the second half focuses Elly's adulthood in the Big Apple around 9/11. I enjoyed how Winman effectively blends the supernatural and otherworldly elements with the real world: the unusual things that happen in the story just become another facet of Elly's life as you continue through the book. I found the writing style is easy to get into, but sometimes the story can be difficult to follow. It can seem a bit disjointed. It's hard to pinpoint whether it is because the novel is separated into two parts or just that there are some unanswered questions that linger throughout.

One thing I loved about this book is how real the characters were. They were complicated, had flaws, but were also so likeable and memorable. Elly, as the narrator, was especially relatable. Because the story is told from her perspective, you can really feel her joy, her confusion, and her torment. Elly is the quirky loner who doesn't fit in anywhere, not in the classroom nor in the work world, but only with her family who are as eccentric as she is. The people that surround Elly are such characters (no pun intended), including: a glamorous movie star lesbian aunt, a lawyer father haunted by a case gone bad, a best friend with unmanageable hair who pulls a futuristic coin from her arm, and a jolly older gentleman who knows exactly when he's going to die.
I do think her brother could have been more developed, especially in part one, but the connection between the two really shines in the latter half. I felt the secret they shared was something that bonded them together and also came between them, which I think is the true nature of secrets. Secrets have a way of connecting you to the other person in a deep and meaningful way, but how you feel about the secret can create distance as well.

One of the most interesting relationships in the book is between Elly and her childhood friend, Jenny Penny. The girls come from very different homes. Elly has a caring, supportive, and stable family with the income to take care of all her needs, where as Jenny Penny comes from a troubled home with a mother who means well, but is distracted by her own struggles and desires.  The two young girls journey on very different paths and end up in very different places. The story shows how poverty and a lack of opportunity effects where you end up. Without giving too much away, the difference is startling and would be of interest to those fascinated by psychology and sociology or anyone interested in human relationships. Though they end up worlds apart, their connection is forever and the novel speaks to love and friendship in a very important way. Things come full circle in the novel; the ending is lovely and provides hope for the future.

Keep reading!

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