December 13, 2007


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 India). But then comes a time when rabbits are nowhere to be found: it turns out that they have escaped the foxes’ dominion and established their own society far away. Now what? Obviously, the two societies are destined to collide, and Zuckerman makes sure they do through the time-tested approach of having members of the two societies become friends. In a strict predator-prey relationship, this would be impossible, but A Taste for Rabbit works on the assumption that the foxes are not merely predators – they are intelligent creatures who have ordered their society as best befits them, and they are unaware (until the events of this book) that rabbits are more than…well…dumb animals. Zuckerman arranges for a fox named Harry and a rabbit named Quentin to become friends, and of course both are young, earnest, well-meaning and vaguely aware that the world is out of balance. A Taste for Rabbit is told in chapters, usually alternating ones, focusing on the two friends (with an occasional chapter focused on another character), but the actual narration is third-person: Zuckerman tells what happens to Harry, Quentin, and the two of them together, but the story is not really told from their points of view (which might have made it more interesting – but also more adult than the book is intended to be). Eventually, Harry and Quentin learn that it can be better to trust one’s hereditary enemy than to accept unquestioningly the ideas of one’s own kind – a worthwhile lesson that turns out to extend not only to foxes and rabbits but also to other species.

      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.

1 comment:

  1. I find Alethea Eason's children's book HUNGRY amazing and of those books which will spark discussion between children and adults that need to take place, but often don't.

    Janet Riehl