As a fan of fantasy and horror (and everything in between), I tend to judge books by how they stick with me. Was I involved enough to still be living the book the next day? Was it scary enough to keep me up for days, well past having read it? Gorgeous writing and imagery are wonderful, but to me, a story’s power lies in its characters and, well, its story.
My best friend recently gave me a Kindle and the first story I acquired for it was Jessica McHugh’s Rabbits in the Garden. This book meets all of the criteria I set for a good read above and more. It is a frightfully disturbing book about a young girl whose life is destroyed early on by her psychopathic, puritanical mother. Young Avery Norton’s life seems to be coming together; she is developing both as a person as well as falling in love with her best friend. Upon her 12th birthday, however, all of those changes as her mother, already a very controlling woman, begins to cruelly force Avery into her own sadistic, warped world, and Avery is left to pay the consequences.The story doesn’t end there, of course. As Avery seeks to reclaim her own life, obstacles continue to be thrown at her—largely from her mother, but also from other people in her life. Every hope is crushed; every chance is stolen, and Mrs. Norton makes you wish that Snow White’s stepmother were Avery’s instead.
There were portions of the book that I would have loved to have been longer in order to explore them a bit more—a Stephen King length would have certainly worked with Rabbits, in my opinion. The other thing I had trouble with was the complete loss of nearly everything in Avery’s world, a similar problem I had with Janet Lee Carey’s Dragon’s Keep. Both books feature a heroine you root for, but after she’s encountered so much heartache and defeat in her young life, you don’t walk away happy; you walk away twisted inside, wishing she could have had a bit more happiness.
Walking away happy, however, wasn’t McHugh’s intention; the author certainly meant for the reader to be disturbed, to keep looking over his or her shoulder wondering if this horror could exist within this world, this town, this basement. And despite wanting more for the heroine, that’s exactly how I felt after reading Rabbits—indeed, how I’m still feeling walking through the house in the dark—and that’s why I eagerly anticipate my next train into McHugh’s world of writing.