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Rabbit Cake
Cover of Rabbit Cake
Rabbit Cake
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People Magazine Book of the Week

An Indies Introduce and Indie Next Pick

Fans of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette and and Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang will delight in Annie Hartnett's debut, a darkly comic novel about a young girl named Elvis trying to figure out her place in a world without her mother.

Elvis Babbitt has a head for the facts: she knows science proves yellow is the happiest color, she knows a healthy male giraffe weighs about 3,000 pounds, and she knows that the naked mole rat is the longest living rodent. She knows she should plan to grieve her mother, who has recently drowned while sleepwalking, for exactly eighteen months. But there are things Elvis doesn't yet know—like how to keep her sister Lizzie from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother's silk bathrobe around the house. Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother's death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.

People Magazine Book of the Week

An Indies Introduce and Indie Next Pick

Fans of Maria Semple's Where'd You Go Bernadette and and Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang will delight in Annie Hartnett's debut, a darkly comic novel about a young girl named Elvis trying to figure out her place in a world without her mother.

Elvis Babbitt has a head for the facts: she knows science proves yellow is the happiest color, she knows a healthy male giraffe weighs about 3,000 pounds, and she knows that the naked mole rat is the longest living rodent. She knows she should plan to grieve her mother, who has recently drowned while sleepwalking, for exactly eighteen months. But there are things Elvis doesn't yet know—like how to keep her sister Lizzie from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother's silk bathrobe around the house. Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother's death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.
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About the Author-
  • Annie Hartnett was the 2013-2014 winner of the Writer in Residence Fellowship for the Associates of the Boston Public Library and has received awards and honors from the Bread Loaf School of English, McSweeney's, and Indiana Review. Hartnett received her MFA in Fiction from the University of Alabama, an MA from Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English, and currently teaches at Grub Street, an independent writing center in Boston. She lives with her husband and their beloved Border Collie in Providence, Rhode Island.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from January 9, 2017
    In Hartnett’s winning debut, a memorable young narrator’s desire for rationality wrestles with her grief. Elvis’s mother once marked every milestone by baking a rabbit-shaped cake, but the year Elvis turns 10, without any fanfare, mom sleepwalks into the river and drowns. Having been told by her therapist that 18 months is the normal amount of time to grieve, Elvis, who makes sense of her world of Freedom, Ala., through research and observation, sets out to record her own grieving process. Complicating her recovery, however, is her older sister, Lizzie, who has also taken up sleepwalking, sleep eating, and even more dangerous behavior. Like many novels with child narrators, Hartnett’s quirky, Southern-tinged debut relies heavily on Elvis’s relative naïveté for dramatic irony. Matter-of-fact Elvis, however, is no mere victim. Her relationship with animals, in particular, rings true—she volunteers at the local zoo—and her story is affecting, exploring how a fragile but precocious girl strives to define herself after a tragedy. Agent: Katie Grimm, Don Cogdon Associates.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from December 1, 2016
    A brilliant book about a child grieving the loss of a mother.Elvis, a 12-year-old girl named for the singer with whom she shares a birthday, lives in Freedom, Alabama, with her father, her sister, Lizzie, and a dog named Boomer. Her mother has recently died, drowned while swimming in her sleep, and Elvis is trying desperately to make sense of how and why. A sympathetic counselor at Elvis' school tells her it takes 18 months to recover from such a loss. Elvis' scientific mind finds comfort, then, in creating a grieving chart to track her progress; she crosses off each month as she makes it through while volunteering at the zoo and carrying on her mother's work writing a book about the sleep habits of animals. The remaining members of her family take different approaches: her father wears his late wife's clothes and makeup around the house and has fallen in love with a parrot who can mimic her voice, and Lizzie, who has inherited the sleepwalking gene, is becoming increasingly dangerous in her sleep. After a series of terrifying incidents in her slumber--lacing her baking with enough gout medication to kill, breaking into all the neighboring chicken coops and eating dozens of raw eggs, attacking family members with knives, plucking all the feathers off her father's beloved bird--Lizzie is sent to an institution for troubled girls. When she returns, she plans to break a world record by baking 1,000 rabbit cakes using the cake pan her mother used to bring out to celebrate every occasion. This is the moving and often funny story of a family trying to figure out what to do next now that their touchstone is gone. The narrator's voice is a stunning combination of youthful and astute. In contemplating her grief, she thinks, "Maybe a spirit evaporates like vapor off the bag of frozen peas you steam in the microwave: the droplets go everywhere, settle wherever they land." How a whip-smart young girl handles the loss of her mother and the reorientation of her family; charming and beautifully written.

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    May 1, 2017

    Rabbit cake, made with a special aluminum mold, was for special occasions in the Babbitt family. Looking back, Elvis thinks that the first sign of danger was when her mother burned the ears of the rabbit cake meant to celebrate Elvis's 10th birthday. Six months later, Elvis's mother drowns, ostensibly by sleepwalking into the river. The scientifically minded protagonist investigates her mother's death, making sense of the taxonomy of death and grief with curiosity and wry humor. Her guileless observations are often hilarious: hints of her mother's promiscuity emerge, pieced together from a memory of her mother "pretending to milk" a man and the mystery of a parrot that perfectly imitates her mother's voice. Meanwhile, Elvis's father begins wearing his dead wife's makeup, and Elvis's 16-year-old sister Lizzie's sleepwalking grows ever more dangerous. When a sleeping Lizzie is discovered climbing into a hot oven, their desperate father sends her to a mental institution. Elvis's salvation comes through volunteer work at a local animal sanctuary. While she is an accurate, observant narrator, with an abundance of knowledge about the natural world, she has little success in understanding people; she puzzles over psychology texts and consults a telephone psychic. Hartnett adeptly conveys a full picture of this family's emotional turmoil, tinged with the sincere hope of a child and the rising anxiety of an adolescent. VERDICT Teens who enjoyed the engaging voice of 11-year-old Flavia in Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie will love Elvis Babbitt.-Diane Colson, City College, Gainesville, FL

    Copyright 2017 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me Heartbreak and dark comedy fuse together in this endearing story of family dysfunction and loss. I cheered for young Elvis Babbitt and the entire cast of quirky characters as they stumbled along a twisted path toward healing.
  • Pete Mock, McIntyre's Books The most enjoyable novel I've read since Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore!
  • Courtney Flynn, Trident Rabbit Cake bursts with life, at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. Annie has written rich characters who walk off the page, bending, changing, and growing as time moves them past the tragedy of their mother's death. We get to see the world through a wholly individual little girl named Elvis only the way a child can see the world—innocent, fresh and open. The strangeness of this story (think rabbit shaped cake obsessions and Jesus statues made out of sea shells) rings so true because of Annie's grasp of the complicated balance of what makes characters human. The pages turn themselves, and what a delight it was to keep up. Wonderful!
  • Darwin Ellis, Books on the Common Grief observed, explained, suffered and experienced by an eleven year-old girl...a very touching coming of age story. 
  • Kevin Wilson, New York Times bestselling author of The Family Fang Annie Hartnett's Rabbit Cake is fantastically original, a story about loss that expands in such exciting, unpredictable ways that I found myself completely won over by the unique Babbitt clan. Hartnett has such a gift for absurdity without ever losing the essential heart of the story. With this novel, she's become one of my favorite writers.
  • Amanda Ibarra, Fly Leaf Books In the Babbitt house bustling like a rabbit hutch, you'll find a cast of characters you simply will not forget: a sleep-eating sister and sleep-swimming mother, a father exploring femininity, a parental parrot, and a daughter named after Elvis Presley. By attempting to understand herself, Elvis frames her life in beautiful juxtapositions, her then-life with mom and now-life without her running deep and parallel. Honest with youth and grief, Elvis looks hard at what makes us human, perfectly mixing whimsy and absurdity. She exists at the intersection of science and wonder, willing to live in the face of death. Rabbit Cake is a cause for celebration.
  • Kris Kleindienst, Left Bank Books A delightfully original story in what is sure to be a beloved favorite of readers everywhere. 
  • Mary Cotton, Newtonville Books Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett is a bookseller's dream of a novel—a smart, funny, thrilling ride alongside uniquely-drawn characters through a landscape at once familiar and refreshingly new. This is a gorgeous debut novel, bursting with empathy and spectacular talent, that I will happily press into the hands of customers. Like any fan of Ann Patchett will tell you, booksellers do it best, and Annie Hartnett, once a bookseller, always a bookseller, is further evidence of that.
  • Susan Hans O'Connor, Penguin Bookshop ...funny, smart, surprising, heartbreaking...
  • Rachel Kaplan, Avid Bookshop I hugged this book to my chest many times while reading it; that's how much I love it. Rabbit Cake is a sweet (and occasionally melancholic) tale of intrigue, full of heart, and with a lovable cast of characters. . . . An inimitable novel about grief, family, and the uncertainty that follows death, Rabbit Cake is a stunning debut of what will surely be a long and lustrous career for author Annie Hartnett.
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