White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

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JUSTIFICATION

What would you do to help your parent from financial ruin? Would you put yourself in harms way? Would you take money from people who hate you? These are the questions Rufus has to confront in the mystery book, White Rabbit. In this story, Rufus, the unwanted and bullied child of the elite Peter Covington, receives a call from his half sister April asking him for help. He, along with his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian, find her covered in blood with her boyfriend’s dead body beside her. After two people in the story offer him cash to help solve the murder, the rest of the story is his and Sebastian’s attempt to find out what happened. It is a work of nearly spot on dialogue with a choppy start early on, the most rage-inducing unsavory characters and a plot line that keeps the reader guessing what will happen next. There are multiple positive reviews, including from the School Library Journal saying, “Excellent characters and plotting, as well as honest and compassionate storytelling make this a strong choice for any YA collection” (Knapp, 2018).

RESPONSE

(a.) I have had the privilege of having two parents that have mostly supported me and shown me love. I have also had the privilege of having siblings who, while different in many ways, are still a positive part of my life. However, the experience Rufus has with almost every character in this novel are of hatred, toxicity, fear and homophobia. His biological father has filed lawsuits against his mother and stopped providing child support. His half sister April, while the one “closest” to him, is manipulative. His half brother Hayden, a sociopath, has beaten him up only to have their father Peter sue Rufus for “pain and suffering [and] emotional distress” (Roehrig, p. 113). His father’s wife, also the school board president, has made sure that the board is informed of all of Rufus’s mess ups. On top of all that, he is aware that his mother is in deep financial stress, which in turn leads him to make questionable decisions for money. He is in a desperate situation, and while I have never been in a state of such desperation, the reader, empathize with his plight.

(e.) While intrigued by the initial conflict, murder and question as to what had happened, I was very unimpressed at the beginning. Against the backdrop of this mystery novel is that of the relationship between protagonist, Rufus and his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian. The beginning scenes, as Rufus and Sebastian confront the bloody and dazed April, were out of place, and lacked context and finesse. “he’s so good-looking it still takes my breath away” or “I try to ignore how good his arms look-” (pp. 9, 14). Fortunately, this cheesiness is replaced by a more realistic depiction of the narrator’s thoughts for the remainder of the novel. This is because Rufus begins to occasionally go back in time to narrate the beginning, middle and end of his relationship with Sebastian. He gives context for how their relationship developed, from the glances, to the first kiss, to time together away from their hometown. It is genuine, realistic and makes the reader feel for Rufus.

“It was a revelation. I was one of, like, three openly gay kids at our dumb school, and I had literally never had a real kiss before. It was almost aggressive, like he was afraid I would bold and he wanted to make sure it happened before I could escape; and then he drew back and we just stared at each other some more in startled silence” (Roehrig, p. 59)

Secondly, as a rookie suspense reader, I was constantly surprised at every twist and turn. I never knew what was going to happen next. Rufus and Sebastian are essentially the detectives in this story and are interrogating everyone who was at the party. Roehrig does a stellar job of creating suspense and also confusing both the narrators and the reader. What really happened at the party? Who is telling the truth? Who is lying? Every character, aside from the two narrator, is hiding information, lying or lying by omission. One brief example is when April is released from the police station and Rufus explains, “April drags on the cigarette for a long moment, the ember glaring as she evaluates us with strangely careful eyes” (Roehrig, p. 219). Every decision, whether a spoken word, or action, is calculated and by design. This is writing that engages the reader and makes this a difficult book to put down.

(f.) While I do not ready suspense or mystery novels, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. The action of this novel takes place in one night and while I cringed at some of the opening inner monologue of Rufus, the story was fast paced with vicious dialogue and is both artful and cunning. This is especially true of dialogue of its unsavory characters. After April goes to the police, Rufus and Sebastian encounter the former’s half brother,

“I know how broke-ass you guys are,” Hayden continues in a jagged undertone…”You see a way to make money, you take it right? Finding my kid sister with a dead body’s like a … blackmail payday for you and your trashbag mom-” (Roehrig, pp. 114-115).

and of Peter, Rufus’s biological father,

“You shut your mouth,” Peter grows furiously, his face bright red. ” I have had it with you and your underhanded mother trying to ruin my life, trying to sabotage my family and jeopardize everything I care about” (Roehrig, p. 132)

These are heart stopping scenes that make the reader truly empathize with Rufus. While the reader knows that Rufus is not perfect – he has had violent outbursts in the past- it is impressive to watch him in these scenes and to hear his inner monologue and observe how he calms himself down. I am very picky with my dialogue in books and I thought it was remarkable in this book.

CONCLUSION

White Rabbit grips the reader and takes them on this journey of mystery, fear and unsavory characters. This near perfect story takes the reader in on a suspenseful ride. What seems like a simple enough scenario is not the case and Roehring leads the reader in places they would not expect. Lastly, while this work is a mystery/suspense novel, it broaches incredibly important subjects – homophobia, coming out, the stress of poverty and the benefits of privilege. Due to the myriad of adult situations and subject matter, this book is recommended for any library serving high school students.

CITATIONS

Knapp, E. (2018)Young adult. School Library Journal, 64(3), 111.

Roehrig, C. (2018). White rabbit. Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC.

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