07 June 2011

When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

Flap Copy from ARC: " ... 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."

To quote the publisher, "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."

Winman's debut novel is divided in two - a humorous look at Elly's childhood relationships and trials, and a much more serious tackling of her adult life and the fractured connections she struggles to maintain. Winman has created quite a cast of characters - from Joe, Elly's moody gay brother who would do anything to protect his little sister, to Nancy, the glamorous Hollywood-actress aunt whose bountiful and loving personality are the glue that keeps the family together, to Arthur and Ginger, elderly best friends who enter the family as guests at their bed-and-breakfast and never leave.

The tone of the book is certainly more serious than not, as Elly, Joe and Elly's best friend Jenny Penny struggle with abuse, sexual uncertainty, family drama and the stress of separation. Winman has defintely captured the pain and awkardness of lost innocence while stepping outside the standard coming-of-age mold.

The characters' voices are clear, and I really enjoyed Winman's descriptive, literal writing style - there were multiple moments where I couldn't help but laugh out loud. At the same time, I found certain elements of the plot to be unrealistic - honestly, how many bizarre turns of fortune can one family experience? I would have rated the novel higher had I found it to be more believable - as it is, I give it 3 stars for being well-written and creative. I definitely look forward to reading more from Sarah Winman in the future.

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