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When God was a Rabbit is a book as entrancing as its title. A coming-of-age story that spans four decades, the book left me dizzy, trying to reconstruct the narrator’s childhood as it was told in fragments and limited by perspective. This is an amazing way to write domestic fiction, because that is how we all really experience family. Who hasn’t begun recalling a family story only to discover that your version is completely different than that of your sibling’s? Events that you considered integral to your identity can begin to slide like the images in a Salvador Dali painting, once you hear another family member’s angle. Siblings in particular often share vastly different perceptions of childhood, yet it is the whole of their stories that reflect the closest approximation of “truth.” We need our siblings to reflect, reaffirm, and sometimes contradict our memories.
At the heart of When God was a Rabbit is the close relationship between the narrator, Elly, and her older brother Joe. I’m always drawn to stories of brothers and sisters, particularly those marked by loss. Winman’s secondary characters are quirky, memorable, and adeptly written, but it is this sibling relationship that gives the book gravity. Looking back, Elly refers to Joe as “the witness of my soul, my shadow in childhood” (242). If you’ve read and enjoyed When God was a Rabbit, I’d also suggest the following titles, which share similar writing styles, tones, and/or subject matter:
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson
Winterson is among my favorite authors and Oranges… is my favorite of her works. This coming-of-age story is part magical realism, part parable, and part first person narrative. It describes the winding and often painful journey to self discovery. When God was a Rabbit shares a similar quirky style that effortlessly blends the comic with the tragic.
Name all the Animals by Alison Smith
Smith’s coming-of-age memoir describes the relationship between the author and her brother, Roy. They share a bond so close that their mother refers to them as one name: Alroy. When Roy dies tragically at 18, Smith is left to piece together what remains of her family and her own shaken identity.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
This coming-of-age novel uses magical realism to express and explore the nature of family relationships. The relationship between the narrator, Rose, and her brother Joseph is a powerful part of this story.