Novel centers on struggles of family grief


“Rabbit Cake” went from being a book that I almost didn’t read to one I’m pestering my friends to give a try.

While I was not initially intrigued by the story – it centers around a young and precocious protagonist and deals with a tragic death among a quirky family and community – I was hooked immediately after reading an excerpt. The writing is crisp and sharp – equally humorous and heartbreaking.

When ten year-old Elvis’s mother sleepwalks into a river and drowns, leaving behind Elvis, her teenage sister Lizzie, their father and the family dog, Boomer, everything falls apart. Lizzie begins to sleepwalk and act out in school. On top of that, their father starts wearing his deceased wife’s clothing around the house and poor Boomer doesn’t know what to do to protect his family. Uber-responsible Elvis does her best to hold the family together but despite her efforts, Lizzie is soon sent away to a mental institution following a suicide attempt.

Elvis attempts to come to terms with the changed circumstances of her family – a tall order for any ten year-old, but especially difficult for the very literal, scientifically-minded and socially awkward Elvis. Intellectually gifted like her late mother, Elvis realizes science alone cannot explain what happened to her mother, who had had many safe instances of sleepwalking and even sleep swimming before her accident.

While science also cannot provide comfort to her sister and father, it does lead Elvis to a volunteer job at the local zoo. Interacting with the staff and animals at the zoo gives Elvis an outlet and opportunities to make friends, which helps her begin to process her grief. Eventually, when Lizzie returns, their father makes forays into the dating world and the little family pulls together.

Elvis’s take on the world is never cute or cloying; the family is certainly eccentric but believably so. The novel is charming and compulsively readable. Plus, there’s cake (the titular rabbit kind), Guinness World Records attempts and lots of animals. The novel was very worth reading, and I would highly recommend it.