Rabbit Ears by Maggie De Vries

rabbit ears by maggie de vries Rabbit Ears by Maggie De VriesBuy Rabbit Ears
Special $10.82 (Regular price: $14.99)
Publisher: Harper Trophy Canada
Format: Paperback
Reviewer: Melissa on April 4, 2014
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Kaya is a multiracial, adopted 13-year-old, who is still grieving the death of her father – and simultaneously, carrying around a dark and painful secret. Feeling ill at ease with her family, at school, and about who she is, she runs away repeatedly to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and into a life of addiction and sex work. Meanwhile, Beth, 16, uses food and a talent for magic tricks to escape her own problems. Both girls struggle through their own version of pain, but in Maggie De Vries’ ya novel Rabbit Ears, there may be a way through the darkness.

When I first heard that Harper Collins Canada was publishing a young adult novel, which dealt, in part, with the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, including the Robert Pickton murder victims, I was intrigued. There are over 800 murdered and missing First Nations women according to recent news and social media (see the hashtag #MMIW), but the issue still isn’t being taken seriously by the mainstream Canadian culture or the government, and I thought that this novel would allow me to highlight this problem on YABookShelf.com. However, after hearing the author’s sister was missing for several years before her remains were found on Robert Pickton’s farm, I knew that I had to read and review it, and I’m really glad that I did.

Rabbit Ears is a powerful, short read from the perspective of two sisters: Kaya who doesn’t feel that there is a place for her regular life, and Beth, who feels at once jealous of the attention Kaya gets and protective of her. The novel alternates between both of their point of views, sometimes within the same chapter and sometimes Beth’s story picks up again after two or three from Kaya’s POV, but in either case, they read as two, very distinct characters with different interests and different ways or presenting themselves and their stories. This distinction exists not only in the types of things each of the girls enjoy and experience, but in the very way that De Vries writes since Kaya’s story is always written in the second person present, while Beth is speaking from the “I” in first person present. The distinction between first and second person is something that the reader may only notice subconsciously at first, but at some point, it will become obvious. What is immediately clear is the way that their voices diverge in other ways, ensuring that the reader will never question whose perspective they’re reading, no matter where you pick up the book.

This book is a gritty, realistic novel that doesn’t shy away from showing some of the tough truths that young women, like Kaya and a sex worker she meets named Sarah, experience while either skipping school to hang out on the streets of the Vancouver Eastside or living on them. There are graphic scenes of drug use, violence against women, and allusions to other abuses and the sex work Kaya participates in to get her next fix, and thus, in some ways, it reminded me of a book I read when I was 15 or 16, Go Ask Alice. However, unlike that fake memoir, De Vries also offers Kaya the opportunity to meet people like Sarah and Raven, characters who have been where Kaya is and don’t want to see her among the murdered and missing women that Vancouver was beginning to see back in the 1997 when the novel is set. Furthermore, Kaya comes to realize that despite what she’s thought about herself and her life, she has people who are willing to support her when she’s ready to share her dark secrets, even if she wished they didn’t know the truth. Don’t expect a complete and unrealistic turn around in Kaya’s life, but expect hope for something better and for understanding to grow between her and Beth whereas before, there was more dividing them than bringing them together.

Offering up a sensitive and authentic narrative with two psychologically complex main characters, and imagery of rabbits, survivor guilt, and predator vs. prey, Maggie De Vries’ Rabbit Ears is an incredible novel that young people and adult readers of YA need to read now. Once you pick it up, you won’t forget the story it weaves that was inspired by one of Vancouver’s missing women.

Add Rabbit Ears now to your to be read list!

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