Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Oldie but a Goodie: Black Rabbit Summer

The Book: Black Rabbit Summer by Kevin Brooks

And it's About?

A smart, tense murder mystery twined with an emotional investigation of the ways love, sex, class, and celebrity can forever change friendships.

Thoughtful Pete, tough Pauly, twins Eric and Nicole, strange Raymond: As kids they were tight; now they've grown up--and apart. They agree to get together one last time, but, twisted by personal histories and fueled by pharmaceuticals, old jealousies surface. The party's soon over, and the group splinters off into the night. Into the noise and heat and chaos of the carnival. Days later, a girl goes missing. The prime suspect in her disappearance? One of their own, one of the old gang. Pete doesn't know what to believe: Could one of his childhood friends really be a cold-blooded killer?

In a Word, it was... Unexpected.

Black Rabbit Summer takes place over the course of a few hot days in the English summer as a once close-knit group of kids hang onto the last remains of their innocence and their friendship. The segzy and damaged Nicole calls up a reluctantly apathetic and thoughtful to the point of neurotic Pete to join her and their old friends for one last hurrah before it's time for them all to go their separate ways. In their early teens, Nicole and Pete had shared that half-formed, half-serious romance of the first years of high school: the kind where you like like each other and that's all you know about luff. Despite some fooling around, nothing really happened and Nicole's call reignites the hope that something might happen inside Pete.

For moral support, he takes his odd friend Raymond along to the meeting. Raymond is the sort of kid who you imagine might actually have a mental disability: he lives almost entirely in his head, is totally neglected by his parents and has only two real friends: Pete and the pet black rabbit that he imagines talks to him.

Even with Raymond briefly around to tag along and keep Pete (temporarily) out of trouble, the mix of alcohol and prescription drugs soon mean that the evening escalates quite rapidly. People go on their own mission as the group descends on the carnival, some never to be seen again.

In a strange way, I never actually thought of Black Rabbit Summer as a thriller and yet now, retrospectively, I see how that genre fits just as easily as realistic YA. I love books set on one day or in a single week so the format was always going to be a winner for me. I also love quiet, intelligent and sensitive boys as the central characters in novels so Black Rabbit Summer already had two things going for it from the start. What I didn't expect were all the lies, secrets, jealousies, lust, love and general complications of being a certain age that that quiet, intelligent and sensitive boy would uncover.

Between the police, a gang of CHAVs out to get him, the media, his missing friends and a growing feeling that things have gone too far to be resolved, Pete has a lot on his plate. Trying to solve the murder mystery is the last of his worries but he realises, just as the reader does, that if he doesn't find out what happened, what he did and what his friend's did that night, by the time the police do, it will be too late.

Black Rabbit Summer is about one night at the carnival, five friends who don't know each other at all, that time just before you knew you were now an adult, class, sexuality, celebrity and a talking rabbit. Five hearts out of five.

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