In Hartnett’s winning debut, a memorable young narrator’s desire for rationality wrestles with her grief. Elvis’s mother once marked every milestone by baking a rabbit-shaped cake, but the year Elvis turns 10, without any fanfare, mom sleepwalks into the river and drowns. Having been told by her therapist that 18 months is the normal amount of time to grieve, Elvis, who makes sense of her world of Freedom, Ala., through research and observation, sets out to record her own grieving process. Complicating her recovery, however, is her older sister, Lizzie, who has also taken up sleepwalking, sleep eating, and even more dangerous behavior. Like many novels with child narrators, Hartnett’s quirky, Southern-tinged debut relies heavily on Elvis’s relative naïveté for dramatic irony. Matter-of-fact Elvis, however, is no mere victim. Her relationship with animals, in particular, rings true—she volunteers at the local zoo—and her story is affecting, exploring how a fragile but precocious girl strives to define herself after a tragedy. Agent: Katie Grimm, Don Cogdon Associates. (Mar.)
Grief observed, explained, suffered and experienced by an eleven year-old girl…
a very touching coming of age story.
…funny, smart, surprising, heartbreaking…
I hugged this book to my chest many times while reading it; that’s how much I love it.
Rabbit Cake is a sweet (and occasionally melancholic) tale of intrigue, full of heart, and with a lovable cast of characters. . . . An inimitable novel about grief, family, and the uncertainty that follows death, Rabbit Cake is a stunning debut of what will surely be a long and lustrous career for author Annie Hartnett.
The most enjoyable novel I’ve read since
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore!
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett is a bookseller's dream of a novel a smart, funny, thrilling ride alongside uniquely-drawn characters through a landscape at once familiar and refreshingly new. This is a gorgeous debut novel, bursting with empathy and spectacular talent, that I will happily press into the hands of customers. Like any fan of Ann Patchett will tell you, booksellers do it best, and Annie Hartnett, once a bookseller, always a bookseller, is further evidence of that.
A delightfully original story in what is
sure to be a beloved favorite of readers everywhere.
Annie has written rich characters who walk off the page, bending, changing, and growing as time moves them past the tragedy of their mother's death. We get to see the world through a wholly individual little girl named Elvis only the way a child can see the worldinnocent, fresh and open. The strangeness of this story (think rabbit shaped cake obsessions and Jesus statues made out of sea shells) rings so true because of Annie's grasp of the complicated balance of what makes characters human. The pages turn themselves, and what a delight it was to keep up. Wonderful! Rabbit Cake bursts with life, at once heartbreaking and heartwarming.
In the Babbitt house bustling like a rabbit hutch, you’ll find
a cast of characters you simply will not forget: a sleep-eating sister and sleep-swimming mother, a father exploring femininity, a parental parrot, and a daughter named after Elvis Presley. By attempting to understand herself, Elvis frames her life in beautiful juxtapositions, her then-life with mom and now-life without her running deep and parallel. Honest with youth and grief, Elvis looks hard at what makes us human, perfectly mixing whimsy and absurdity. She exists at the intersection of science and wonder, willing to live in the face of death. Rabbit Cake is a cause for celebration.
Fun emanates from virtually every element of [its particular narratorial voice, crackling dialogue, vibrant cast of characters, vivid and unexpected imagery, absurdist moments, and plot that bounces along like its titular animal but still finds room for quiet contemplation. Rabbit Cake's] craft
12-year-old Elvis is a captivating character and the fantastically absorbing narrator of this stunning debut novel.
Darkly funny and endlessly smart, Rabbit Cake chases down the quivering heart of familial loss and reminds us there is no right way to grieve. There’s only showing up for it, and showing up for each other.
"Must-Reads for 2017" Ploughshares
Readers will laugh and cry in turn at this touching novel about a little girl with a big heart.
Best Books of Spring Bookish
What makes this book shine is that [Elvis] is both completely believable as a child [and] a compelling narrator. The reader feels her grief, her curious hunger for the world, and also her disbelief that a world so abundant in wonder could take her mother away.
Rabbit Cake is fantastically original, a story about loss that expands in such exciting, unpredictable ways that I found myself completely won over by the unique Babbitt clan. Hartnett has such a gift for absurdity without ever losing the essential heart of the story. With this novel, she's become one of my favorite writers.
This is the kind of book I try to resist as a noted curmudgeon, but with not a smidge more sentiment than needed,
Rabbit Cake is an instant classic that you could confidently give as a gift to any reader.
Hartnett has written
a quirky, slightly magical coming-of-age story that will have your heart. She is a writer to watch.
In my mind, it's damn near impossible to overstate the joys, the subtlety, and the brilliance of
Heartbreak and dark comedy fuse together in this endearing story of family dysfunction and loss.
I cheered for young Elvis Babbitt and the entire cast of quirky characters as they stumbled along a twisted path toward healing.
Irresistible...[the book is] both gentle exploration of loss (Elvis’s mother, in the opening pages, has drowned) and quirkily funny coming-of-age tale, marking its Rhode Island-based author as a talent to watch.
Hartnett tells the story with immeasurable heart, wit, and charm. The book’s got perfect pitch from open to close.
The Chicago Review of Books
Hartnett tells the story with immeasurable heart,
wit, and charm. The book’s got perfect pitch from open to close.
a truly terrific and original novel about grief, family, and finding hope in the aftermath.
Darkly funny and soulful . . . Hartnett imbues Elvis with that capacity to be both self-aware and childlike that places her in a tradition of independent minded, motherless heroines from Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, to the eponymous Ellen Foster, and Ruth from Housekeeping. . . . Rabbit Cake is Elvis’s unpredictable story of healing, and the young woman at its center is immediately lovable because she is delightfully human.
For your canon-coming-of-age-novel consideration: Meet Elvis Babbitt. A preteen whose mother recently drowned, Elvis is trying to understand the world around her.
Funny and heartfelt, Rabbit Cake manages adult questions with a tween's sense of wonder.
[A] treasure. Books about grief are rarely funny and adorablethis one is.
Heartbreak and dark comedy fuse together in this endearing story of family dysfunction and loss. I cheered for young Elvis Babbitt and the entire cast of quirky characters as they stumbled along a twisted path toward healing.”
Rabbit cake, made with a special aluminum mold, was for special occasions in the Babbitt family. Looking back, Elvis thinks that the first sign of danger was when her mother burned the ears of the rabbit cake meant to celebrate Elvis's 10th birthday. Six months later, Elvis's mother drowns, ostensibly by sleepwalking into the river. The scientifically minded protagonist investigates her mother's death, making sense of the taxonomy of death and grief with curiosity and wry humor. Her guileless observations are often hilarious: hints of her mother's promiscuity emerge, pieced together from a memory of her mother "pretending to milk" a man and the mystery of a parrot that perfectly imitates her mother's voice. Meanwhile, Elvis's father begins wearing his dead wife's makeup, and Elvis's 16-year-old sister Lizzie's sleepwalking grows ever more dangerous. When a sleeping Lizzie is discovered climbing into a hot oven, their desperate father sends her to a mental institution. Elvis's salvation comes through volunteer work at a local animal sanctuary. While she is an accurate, observant narrator, with an abundance of knowledge about the natural world, she has little success in understanding people; she puzzles over psychology texts and consults a telephone psychic. Hartnett adeptly conveys a full picture of this family's emotional turmoil, tinged with the sincere hope of a child and the rising anxiety of an adolescent. VERDICT Teens who enjoyed the engaging voice of 11-year-old Flavia in Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie will love Elvis Babbitt.—Diane Colson, City College, Gainesville, FL
A brilliant book about a child grieving the loss of a mother.Elvis, a 12-year-old girl named for the singer with whom she shares a birthday, lives in Freedom, Alabama, with her father, her sister, Lizzie, and a dog named Boomer. Her mother has recently died, drowned while swimming in her sleep, and Elvis is trying desperately to make sense of how and why. A sympathetic counselor at Elvis' school tells her it takes 18 months to recover from such a loss. Elvis' scientific mind finds comfort, then, in creating a grieving chart to track her progress; she crosses off each month as she makes it through while volunteering at the zoo and carrying on her mother's work writing a book about the sleep habits of animals. The remaining members of her family take different approaches: her father wears his late wife's clothes and makeup around the house and has fallen in love with a parrot who can mimic her voice, and Lizzie, who has inherited the sleepwalking gene, is becoming increasingly dangerous in her sleep. After a series of terrifying incidents in her slumber—lacing her baking with enough gout medication to kill, breaking into all the neighboring chicken coops and eating dozens of raw eggs, attacking family members with knives, plucking all the feathers off her father's beloved bird—Lizzie is sent to an institution for troubled girls. When she returns, she plans to break a world record by baking 1,000 rabbit cakes using the cake pan her mother used to bring out to celebrate every occasion. This is the moving and often funny story of a family trying to figure out what to do next now that their touchstone is gone. The narrator's voice is a stunning combination of youthful and astute. In contemplating her grief, she thinks, "Maybe a spirit evaporates like vapor off the bag of frozen peas you steam in the microwave: the droplets go everywhere, settle wherever they land." How a whip-smart young girl handles the loss of her mother and the reorientation of her family; charming and beautifully written.