Rabbit Ears by Maggie de Vries is a gritty YA novel from the perspective of two sisters, one of whom is spiraling into trouble and hiding a painful secret.
A brave and unflinching look at one vulnerable young woman living on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Kaya is adopted, multiracial, grieving the death of her father—and carrying a painful secret. Feeling ill at ease with her family and in her own skin, she runs away repeatedly, gradually disappearing into a life of addiction and sex work.
Meanwhile, her sister, Beth, escapes her own troubles with food and a rediscovered talent for magic tricks. Though both girls struggle through darkness and pain, they eventually find their way to a moment of illumination and healing.
From the publisher, HarperCollins Canada.
Maggie de Vries is a fantastic author and the story, although fictional, comes from a very real and personal place; Maggie’s sister Sarah was one of the missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a victim of serial killer Robert Pickton. The DTES and the missing women provide a backdrop for the story of Beth and Kaya in Rabbit Ears.
The DTES is the poorest neighbourhood in Canada, and from the early 1980s to 2002, more than 60 women went missing from the area. Many of the missing women were marginalized or impoverished, many were Aboriginal, some were drug users and/or sex-workers. It took the RCMP and the Vancouver Police Department many years to pay attention to the people of the DTES and the alarming number of missing women. In 2007, Pickton was convicted with second degree murder for six women, and there is an on-going criminal investigation into BC’s Missing Women.
Rabbit Ears is narrated by both sisters, with authentic and sensitive voices. Kaya is loosely based on Sarah de Vries, whom Maggie wrote about in 2003’s Missing Sarah: A Memoir of Loss. Kaya is adopted, First Nations, and living with her white family on Vancouver’s West Side. Her portions of the novel are narrated in second person point of view.
On the more critical side, I didn’t like Kaya’s narrative in second POV, it felt inauthentic and stilted. Although it did allow immediate recognition between the two sisters’ narratives, and eventually was explained why it was written that way. I feel that although Beth did come across as the older sister, I didn’t get the impression she was sixteen-years-old in her speech and mannerisms. The only thing that indicated this age was the amount of freedom and autonomy her mother allowed her.
I can also understand Maggie de Vries’ desire to give the novel a positive and happy ending, but I personally found the resolution too perfect. Beth ‘suddenly’ figures out why Kaya is in this downward spiral, and with out-of-character confidence rallies a bunch of friends and frenemies to her aid. They march through the DTES and find Kaya, who admits to the truth and seeks help. I found this scenario incredibly rose-tinted. However, it was realistic when they sought the help of a community support worker, and the struggle of the aftermath that Kaya narratives.
I admire and applaud Maggie de Vries for writing this story, and I’m so glad that she found a publisher for the title. The backdrop of the story is an important topic for young readers. As a kid, I remember learning so much about WWII by reading Kit Pearson’s Guests of War trilogy. I believe fiction has the power to educate and empathize. This would be an excellent novel to study in a classroom or for an older youth reader who can handle the reality of the setting.