Something is terribly wrong with 13-year-old Kaya. Her older sister, Beth, is both terrified and frustrated by Kaya’s acting out – running off, shoplifting, skipping school, and, eventually, getting into drugs.
What at first appears to be heightened teenage rebellion quickly descends into much darker territory. Kaya’s pain is more than mere angst; her actions are borne out of the desperation felt by a deeply wounded girl. Soon Kaya is sucked into the harsh world of Vancouver’s infamous Downtown Eastside, where so many others have ended up while trying to outrun their demons.
Rabbit Ears, the new novel by Vancouver author Maggie de Vries, is related in alternating viewpoints, with Beth’s first-person narration interspersed among the dominant sections about Kaya. Adding tension is the question of whether Kaya’s narrative is delivered in the second-person “you” form in order to distance herself from her own painful experiences or because she is no longer around to speak for herself. The technique also draws the reader inside the family’s anxiety and uncertainty, and is a brilliant use of form to communicate emotion.
Those familiar with de Vries’ work will recognize the author’s very personal connection to the subject matter. Her 2003 memoir, Missing Sarah, chronicled the disappearance of her sister, who was identified as one of the victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.
Even without knowing this background, reading Rabbit Ears is difficult. But de Vries has created beauty out of pain. Lush and poetic passages frame the few small joys in Kaya’s conflicted life: swimming, the power of her own beauty, the comfort of an animal’s love. These are contrasted by blunt, unadorned prose dramatizing her darkest moments, a choice that testifies to de Vries’ well-tuned ear. She is a storyteller with style, and Kaya is a real and vibrant character. Readers will root for her even at her most self-destructive.
Though it is impossible not to consider the source of its real-life inspiration, Rabbit Ears is not a soapbox, just a story about a girl and the people around her. And it is one that readers will find impossible to put down.