“The Secret Miss Rabbit Kept” by Robin Cain

This book passes the page-one test, chapter-one test, and “is it worth reading” overall: YES, yes, a thousand times, yes!
Robin Cain nails *voice* — and character. Not a one is predictable or flat. The setting, the people all seem 100% authentic and real. At times the 16-year-old protagonist sounds too wise for her years, but this is the 1970s. Sophie has grown up with a mom quoting “Old Man Wisdom” every day. She’s worked with a woman who spouts advice that a girl would do well to internalize. As a mother of three, it warms my heart to see a teenager parroting her mother’s words to some elderly grouch. Sophie is wise beyond her years. I’m not sure today’s teen readers would be able to identify with her, but this is women’s fiction, gritty and hard-hitting, not for the dreamy young fans of Twilight.The nursing home scenes are NOT for the faint of heart. The most gruesome details are the most likely to be true, and I’ve heard worse than what this book delivers. Most of the fictional staff do their very best to treat their elderly charges with dignity and compassion. When a young father comes in as a vegetable, when a 50-year-old wife is admitted, it’s harder than ever for a teenager working at an “old folks’ home” to cope. Life is filled with horror and injustice. The nursing home scenes will ring hauntingly true for anyone who’s seen a loved one die there. Putting a 16-year-old heroine there is a riveting way for an author to torture her protagonist.

Other horrors hit close to home when the heroine’s nemesis, snooty Penny, suffers the trauma of parents divorcing. Sophie, no longer able to silently suffer through Penny’s whining, finally tells her off–sounding like her wise co-worker, Emma Jean, the most endearing fictional Black woman I’ve seen since The Help.

The story of Miss Rabbit unfolds gradually, and its connection to Sophie’s own story (abandoned at birth and left at a church) is handled with subtlety and compassion. Robin Cain never does reveal the story of Sophie’s birth mother (a sequel would be nice, hint, hint), but the point is how Sophie’s judgment changes. This is a coming of age story, from the opening page, when a girl’s sixteenth birthday is spent at Day One of the hardest job in town, to the final page, when the heroine has grown and matured and made her peace with some heavy issues. Plot spoilers prevent me from saying more. Suffice it to say, the vivid and memorable characters in the nursing home are not too old to “come of age” themselves and grow up, or compromise, or learn to adapt.

The quiet star of the novel is dear, silent Mable Rabbit. Her story is all too familiar for so many women who suffer in silence as victims rather than risk the consequences of “outing” their abuser. The theme could occupy many hours of discussion in classrooms, book clubs and group therapy sessions.

One complaint: stylistically, the author uses a certain syntax too often for this reader. E.g., “Breakfast finished, I left them to finish their endless debate.” Okay, but when three sentence per page follow that style, it wears on me. The word order can be confusing: “Pete no longer in his seat, an orderly had joined Roy.” However, these are minor stylistic concerns, not enough to make me knock a star off the novel.

This is a story that deserves the attention that Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help,” Ann Hite’s “Ghost on Black Mountain,” Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Secret Life of Bees” and other novels have earned. Not that the stories are the same, but the characters are that memorable and real. Robin Cain’s “The Secret Miss Rabbit Kept” should be taught in schools, shared in book clubs and treasured by readers for years to come.

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About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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