When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Published March 1st 2011 by Headline Review
My rating: 4.5 stars
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Goodreads Summary: This is a book about a brother and a sister. It's a book about secrets and starting over, friendship and family, triumph and tragedy, and everything in between. More than anything, it's a book about love in all its forms.
In a remarkably honest and confident voice, Sarah Winman has written the story of a memorable young heroine, Elly, and her loss of innocence- a magical portrait of growing up and the pull and power of family ties. From Essex and Cornwall to the streets of New York, from 1968 to the events of 9/11, When God Was a Rabbit follows the evolving bond of love and secrets between Elly and her brother Joe, and her increasing concern for an unusual best friend, Jenny Penny, who has secrets of her own. With its wit and humor, engaging characters whose eccentricities are adroitly and sometimes darkly drawn, and its themes of memory and identity, When God Was a Rabbit is a love letter to true friendship and fraternal love.
Funny, utterly compelling, fully of sparkle, and poignant, too, When God Was a Rabbit heralds the start of a remarkable new literary career.
If you've read some of my reviews before, then you surely know that for me good writing is more important than a good plot or characters. I am willing to forgive a lot of other issues with the book if the writing swoons me (like Winman's did). I was ready to rate this book five stars based on the writing alone. I knew I'd love When God Was A Rabbit from the first five sentences. There are few words to describe Winman's writing. Gorgeous. Magical. Beautiful. Raw and tender at the same time. Lyrical, descriptive, but never complicated. An experience that you want to share with someone special, and that makes every book that comes after a slight disappointment. When God Was A Rabbit spoiled me to no end.
The reasons why I am not saying this book is perfection (but is quite close to it) is the plot. There is very little of it to talk about. It is a colorful tale of growing up, and since it's even dealing with similar issues, it reminded me of a more mature, female and British version of Chbosky's The Perks of Being A Wallflower. Much of the main character's personality is defined by something that happened in her childhood. If you find Eleanor odd at moments, please keep reading, the full extent of the trauma shows close to the end. But I also must say, I don't think it excuses some of her characteristics.
There were bits in the plot that didn't add up. I didn't question them at the time I was reading-I was too caught up, but thinking of it now, the plot of When God Was A Rabbit is a number of scenes. I hoped that by the end there would be a visible thread that would tie the scenes into a unified and coherent whole, but I didn't find it. Some scenes, albeit beautiful, hilarious or aching, felt out of place or randomly picked by the "wouldn't it be cool if we..." method.
If any of the issues I mention are turning you away from this book, I urge you, please give it a try. I'll keep recommending it because the positive outweighs the negative tidbits by tons. Winman is an immensely talented author, and considering that When God Was A Rabbit was her debut, I am completely in awe. Open a random page if you run into it in a bookstore or library, like I did. You won't want to put it back.