Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

34499210White Rabbit is a YA contemporary thriller I said I wasn’t going to read in a recent try a chapter tag. I decided to pick it up on a whim anyway – I don’t really know why, maybe it’s the very atmospheric cover I love – and here I am.

The first thing you should know about White Rabbit is that it is going to break your suspension of disbelief, and it will do that many times. If you’re fine with that and want an over-the-top creepy mystery with a really nice second chance m/m romance, this is perfect. If you want realism, look elsewhere.

I think you should also look elsewhere if you want something memorable instead of a fun read that will keep you on the edge of your seat while lacking in depth. My feelings about this book are similar to what I felt about another very gay mystery I read this year (People Like Us by Dana Mele), and sometimes “spooky and fun if a bit trashy” is just what you’re looking for. What I can say for sure is that White Rabbit didn’t stand out for being bad.
My main problems with it were:

• It was too unrealistic. For most of the book, I didn’t care – mysteries are addicting and that helps you forget most of the flaws – but sometimes it was too much
• The writing was mostly fine, until it wasn’t.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that could compete for the Worst Simile Ever Award, but what can you say about a book that gifts you sentences like:

Even the lawn bore the scars of fire, strange loops and lines branded into the earth as if a family of electric eels had been mating on the grass.

I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean and maybe I don’t want to know. But wait, there’s more ugly:

My ex-boyfriend gives me an incredulous look, his soft, kissable lips scrunching up like a cat’s anus.

Yes, kissable. Like a cat’s anus. Great.

That’s not to say the writing was bad – the author actually came up with some very creative insults, which I really appreciated, and the creepy atmosphere was there – but it was just fine for the most part. The problem is, “fine” isn’t memorable, electric eels and cat butts are.

What saved this book for me were the characters. Rufus is a gay teenager who has been bullied and has anger issues because of that; Sebastian is black and is Rufus’ closeted, questioning ex-boyfriend. I really liked seeing their relationship develop, and their backstory, while painful – Sebastian broke Rufus’ heart – was one of my favorite parts of the book.
I don’t know if something changed between the ARC and the version I read, but I didn’t find that backstory biphobic. Apart from the fact that you can’t say there’s a bisexual character cheating when that character is questioning his sexuality and not necessarily bi, but also: the bisexual cheater trope is bad because it frames bi people as inherently unfaithful or, in some cases, sex-crazed. The reason Sebastian got back with his ex-girlfriend is that he’s a terrified, closeted kid in high school. As I saw a very similar thing happen in real life, I’m not ok with framing it as a biphobic trope. Teenagers are going to mess up. Closeted teenagers in a homophobic place will hurt a lot of people to not get hurt themselves. It’s reality and it’s ugly and it’s not just a “harmful stereotype”. (It was the most real part of the book, for me.)

The other characters were completely flat, which didn’t help the already unrealistic plot. If you need to write a story which involves drug use, popular kids who are drug dealers, a teenager going on a murder spree, an adult asking a teenager to investigate said murder spree, and a somewhat exaggerated portrayal of high school cliques, you should have really solid characters. This book didn’t.

About the resolution: I didn’t find it predictable, but everything seemed not to adhere to the laws of logic and reality in this book, so it’s not like I could piece together things.

My rating: ★★¾

[Trigger Warnings for: bullying, especially homophobic bullying, drug use, racism, and of course murder]

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