This time, still in keeping of the theme for this month, I would like to talk about Rabbit Ears by Maggie de Vries.
Kaya is carrying a painful secret. Feeling out of place at school and around her family, she escapes to Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, where she meets other girls trying to outrun their own demons. No one can understand why Kaya can’t bear to stay at home- not even Sarah, a sex worker addicted to heroin, who tries to save Kaya from herself and keep her safe from a terrifying new threat to the women on the streets.
This book is not an easy one to talk about- for several reasons, really.
Some are kind of petty. For instance, Maggie de Vries is a professor at UBC, I’ve taken a class with her (one of my favourite of the graduate level classes), and writing this review feels an awful lot like turning in an assignment. Except I wasn’t assigned the review of this book. I just have to talk about this book or I might actually cry. And fortunately, she might be too busy being an important and excellent professor to care that someone blogged about her book.
If she does see this post, with any luck, she may not hate me forever for all my crazy writing and poor grammar and incessant typos.
Some reasons are not so petty, and pretty much all of them are reasons why this book qualifies as a crossover novel meant for interested teens, young adults, and adults. For instance, it starts off as a story about two, very different sisters … but then it becomes something more, something revealing, and eventually, something redemptive. It is a challenging read, not just because you find yourself unable to stop engaging, but because you’ve heard this story before and you know how it ends. (Not well, that is.) Having two narratives work side-by-side to tell the same story was an excellent decision here. It also works so well at delivering different perspectives on some very real (and often ignored*) issues, such as, child abuse, rape, drug use, and sex work.
And while we are on the subject of perspective, my favourite thing about this book is how the two sisters’ POVs are presented. Kaya relates her jarring experiences in second-person narrative. On the one hand, it is kind of understood that Kaya does not want to personally re-live her more painful moments. On the other hand, it is also true that we as readers have been put into the shoes of someone else without warning, someone whose life is (probably) pretty different and difficult in comparison to ours. Of course, de Vries makes it rather easy to immerse oneself into Kaya’s narrative. She is a pretty fierce girl and you end up wanting to know her and wanting her to be okay:
“You stand wet and cold in your human skin … Feeling a spurt of rage, you step forward. No one is going to humiliate you” (de Vries 9).
Meanwhile, Beth tells us her side of the story in an almost confessional, first-person POV. Beth is Kaya’s older, adopted sister. She may be older, but that doesn’t make caring for her sister easier. Knowing what little she does about Kaya, Beth’s thoughts are difficult to marshall into singular concern. She wrestles with being supremely annoyed at Kaya and her Mom …
“I sit up, teeth gritted. How could Kaya go there anyway? And then go back? And not call? It’s not like Mom was beating her or anything. What’s her problem? And how can Mom drive away into the mountains and leave her daughter to her fate” (de Vries 77).
… as well as feeling real love and concern for her family- emotions that surface even as Beth tries to force them down by distracting her mind and body. Sometimes these distractions involve food and sometimes they involves sleight of hand:
“When I lift the second box at the end, there is the rabbit, gazing up at me through her beaded eyes, exactly where she is supposed to be, whisked there by my magic.
I drop onto a chair and into weird confusing tears” (de Vries 113).
Everything that Kaya and Beth talk about is affected by who they are (obviously) and the same applies to the people they interact with, but de Vries is so good at making every bit of dialogue count that even with Kaya and Beth’s respective prejudices, we catch glimpses of each of the characters’ strong personalities. Sarah, a character who is loosely based on de Vries’ own sister, is my favourite. There are many poignant moments in Rabbit Ears, but I don’t want to spoil them all for you, so the scene I want to mention here is the one where Sarah takes Kaya to Crab Park and shows her the memorial for the missing women of downtown Eastside.
As they gaze upon the words “THE HEART HAS ITS OWN MEMORY”, Kaya asks Sarah why she is showing her this, and Sarah responds with:
“Those women. They could be you. They could be me” (de Vries 60).
It’s a pretty simple statement, but this was when I realized just how gracefully Kaya’s story dances between fiction and non-fiction. The reading does not get easier- but that is how it is because this story is not just Kaya’s. It was a lot of women’s stories, and it still is. Also, de Vries is not in the business of delivering unrealistic, happy endings. I do not think it is a spoiler to say, however, that hope is not out of the question.
In the end, I think Rabbit Ears makes for some rather important reading, not only because the story (and the non-fiction narratives it references) is such a powerful one, but also because it encourages conversation on some issues that are typically met with unease. And while none of these issues are very graphically represented, I would like readers to use their discretion on the matter. Otherwise, as mentioned above, interested teens, young adults, and adults could probably pick this one up. I can also see this book being useful in a classroom setting be it for Canadian Literature, or Women Studies, or Human Geography.
Amazing review, Yash. I knew this would be heartwrenching but now that you’ve confirmed it, I’m already blue. But I think books like Rabbit Ears are important for so many reasons.
Absolutely- it must be read! (And thanks for that nice comment! I was really worried about reviewing this one!)
Wonderful review, thank you. I can’t wait to take on this read.
Thank you! And I hope you like it, challenging read though it may be!
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Thanks for the great review, Yash! I’m honoured that you read my book and that you have written about it so eloquently.
Ohmigosh, Maggie! Thanks for a. writing such an incredible book and b. actually taking the time out to comment on my review. Cheers. :)
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