YA novel confronts life on Vancouver streets

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June 13, 2014

Rabbit Ears

By Maggie De Vries

Harper Trophy Canada

232 pages, $14.99

Reviewed by Kyla Shauer

Every young adult novel I’ve ever read has concluded with some sort of bow-tied happy resolution. Usually the hero/heroine procures the love of someone dear, defeats their inner and/or outer demons and makes the world better. This is not that kind of novel. This novel discusses real problems from the streets of Vancouver. While it does not feature a brooding love interest, its complex characters give faces, voices and life to stories we normally hear as news statistics. Rabbit Ears shows that every story and person matters.

Many readers will remember De Vries from her compelling memoir, Missing Sarah, which focused on the author’s sister, who was one of the young women who went missing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the Robert Pickton case. A former editor at Orca Books, De Vries teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia, focusing on children’s writing. She has written eight previous books for children.

Rabbit Ears follows sisters Kaya and Beth as they navigate Kaya’s inner problems that lead her to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in late 1990s.

At 13, Kaya starts high school already at issue with her identity. Kaya collides with the return of a former friend Diana, whose presence at her new school pushes Kaya to run from her secret past. On one of her trips she meets Sarah, a prostitute and heroin addict, who tries to protect Kaya by shoving her onto the bus home. Soon Kaya returns and searches for Sarah but finds heroin instead.

De Vries utilizes the viewpoints of both sisters to tell the story from the perspective of the family and the runaway herself. Unusually, Kaya’s character is presented in the second-person point of view: “It feels weird being outside in the city so late all by yourself. You can feel the eyes on you. And the danger. You think briefly about your bed. Warm. Dry. Safe. Then you shake that off and march down the sidewalk.”

By contrast, the first-person point of view focuses on the emotional conflict that affects Beth and her mother as they search the streets for Kaya. “I’m on my way back downtown when I see her, standing right there on the corner, teetering on her high-heeled boots.”

The transitions between the sisters can be jarring, especially between multiple shifts within a few pages. De Vries evidently chooses the viewpoints to engage the reader by looking at teenage runaways, drug use and prostitution from different sides.

Rabbit Ears is a rewarding read for anyone wanting to understand what could make a person choose the streets when she had other options. This novel does not shy away from brutal reality but neither does it dwell on the violence or abuse. De Vries modeled the character, Sarah, on her sister and gave Sarah to Kaya as a guide and defender in honour of Sarah’s memory. I would recommend Rabbit Ears for later teens and adults.

Kyla Shauer is a Creative Writing student at UVic and a Communications Assistant at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics.

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