A Taste for Rabbit. By Linda Zuckerman. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $16.99.
Hungry. By Alethea Eason. HarperCollins. $15.99.
The idea of a world populated by animals rather than humans is nothing new – it dates back at least to Aesop’s fables. The idea of rabbits as intelligent creatures with their own society is nothing new, either – Watership Down made the notion famous. What Linda Zuckerman does in her first novel, A Taste for Rabbit, is take these previously used ideas and twist them around a bit, producing a fresh look at what it means to be human, even if you are not human-shaped. In Zuckerman’s world, foxes are civilized and are the dominant species. Like humans in our own world, these foxes eat other animals with lesser brainpower; they are especially fond of rabbits, to the point that the foxes are actually dependent on a steady supply of rabbits for food (there is something of a parallel here to humans and cows – at least in much of the world outside
But what about a species that is truly alien? That’s what Alethea Eason introduces in her first novel, which is as amusing and frothy as Zuckerman’s is serious and thought-provoking. The basic subject matter is the same – intelligent species eating each other (or not) – but one of the species in question in Eason’s book happens to be Homo sapiens. A novel for middle-schoolers (ages 10 and up), Hungry focuses on a sixth-grader named Deborah, who is just starting to notice boys – especially one particular boy, Willy, whose has curly red hair and radiates coolness and is Deborah’s closest friend. Not that way, at least not yet – but there are certainly possibilities…until Deborah’s parents tell her to turn Willy into lunch. Or dinner. Whatever. The point is that Deborah and her parents are tentacled aliens, and they can eat humans, but not human food. “I wished I could eat like a normal human girl and drink sodas and milk shakes and find out what pizza tasted like,” moans Deborah. “My ski cap began to rise. Dad put his hand on top of my head and gently pushed my tentacles back down.” See, human food will kill Deborah’s family – at least they say they think it will, and as her dad points out, they can’t take the chance of finding out. So what’s a middle-school alien girl in a human overskin to do? Does she help with the invasion scenario (that’s what she and her parents are supposed to be doing on Earth), acknowledging herself as Dbkrrsh of the House of Mpfld, or does she shame her species by trying to stay plain Deborah Jones of Earth? The answer is a little long in coming, and the eventual use of a deus ex machina (actually alien ex machina) is a bit disappointing, but hey, at least Earth is saved at the end. For the time being, anyway.