The Rabbit Girl
World War II. London is being blitzed nightly. Ten-year-old Tony, a timid, reclusive child, has already moved to London from Ireland when his mother died, and now he’s being evacuated to a farm in the Lake District. He doesn’t want to go. He wants to live quietly with his dad and keep rabbits. Instead, he must muck in (literally) on the farm.
Alice, however, an orphan and another evacuee, is delighted to be leaving ‘Aunty Bee’, who treats her like a skivvy. She meets Tony on the train, and they strike up an unlikely friendship. Later, they both meet Mrs H., an old lady with a passion for rabbits, who will have much to teach them.
Woven through Tony and Alice’s story is that of 21st-century Mallie, whose mum is out of work. Mallie works in a pet shop after school which enables her to buy her depressed mum a watercolour of a girl with a rabbit. How does the painting bring Tony’s past and Mallie’s present together? And what connection does it have with the famous children’s author, Beatrix Potter?
Mary Arrigan never goes for the obvious. She doesn’t pull her punches about the effects of war. It’s frightening, dangerous and people get killed; and farming is hard and dirty work. Even though Tony moves on, he is still withdrawn and socially awkward. Mallie tries to engineer a romance between her mum and Steve from the pet shop, but, as in real life, her machinations go awry. This is no cosy story.
It is, however, a story of hope and change. There are a number of challenges for Tony and Mallie, and it is up to them to face them and move on. I think that children of nine plus, who like a good story with substance, should enjoy it.