Review: White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig

whiterabbit

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Published: 24 April 2018

Publisher: Feiwel Friends

Category: Young Adult/Mystery/LGBT+

Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian—the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get much worse, right?

But then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. And then he and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife, beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney.

April swears she didn’t kill Fox—but Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth. April has something he needs, though, and her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to prove his sister’s innocence…or die trying.

Rating: 1 Star

CW: sexual identity slurs, eating disorder comment, sexual assault, drinking/drug use by teens

Mysteries can be really interesting. I’m no stranger to watching them all over Netflix, Hulu, and whatever other streaming site I’ve got access to, not to mention gobbling up books. That’s why I wanted to read White Rabbit: it sounded like a twisty maze of a murder mystery that would grip me from page one.

Oh boy. It was a disappointment and I’m really sore about that. Reading the whole of the book turned out to be more of a duty than an enjoyable experience. The best thing I can say about this is that I can see it being easily adapted to other mediums. With a few tweaks and cleaning up of the more problematic aspects, there’s still a lot of good stuff underneath. However, it was the troubling relationships, the lack of connection, and the pacing that ruined this book for me.

The relationship between Rufus and Sebastian before the book begins and during the majority of the book is, at best, uneasy and at worst toxic. Rufus was outed as gay in the fifth grade and has been dealing with the fallout since then, bullying and the like. Sebastian is terrified of what people would think if they found out he loved Rufus (his identity is unclear: bi, pan, or otherwise). The tension would make sense, but the toxicity comes in when you consider the dependence Rufus shows in regards to their relationship. He said many things that made it seem like Sebastian was the be all of his life and it was more than a little uncomfortable.

 

Dating Sebastian Williams was both the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. In a lot of ways, being with him made me feel as if maybe I’d never really been alive at all before. I was like a violin— an object that hasn’t much purpose until someone touches it, fills it with resonance, draws things from it that it can never produce on its own. Sebastian had been the one to draw music from me, and it’s why the end was so bad; before him, I’d never actually realized how painful the silence was.

 

Sebastian contributed to the toxicity in a few ways. While he and Rufus were dating, he would still be flirting with girls, even knowing that it bothered his boyfriend.

 

It bothered me that Sebastian still flirted openly with girls, even right in front of me, because I knew he still actually liked girls; but I also knew why he felt the need to do it, and I believed all the things he said to me in private— how special I was, how happy I made him, how good he felt when we were together— and so I plastered over my jealousies and let myself fall into him.

 

I understand why he felt the need to keep their relationship private, but knowing how Rufus felt and still doing things like this felt like it contributed to bad stereotypes about bisexual characters. Sebastian isn’t identified as strictly bisexual, though he is coded that way, and these stereotype hints don’t help. It’s distasteful on its own and then Rufus letting him get away with it just adds a whole other level of nose wrinkling frustration.

Sebastian then ends their relationship by ghosting Rufus. He never recognizes or stands up for Rufus when his friends bullied him. He excuses what the bullies do, related to Rufus or not, as being “little kids” back then or just “kids”. Age doesn’t excuse the stuff they did because they were all old enough to know better by this point.

 

“You think maybe I’m in on it.” I respond to the charge with silence, and he states gruffly, “I wouldn’t do something like that, Rufe. Not to you. You know I wouldn’t.” “I don’t know what you’d do,” I shoot back,

 

Even if they weren’t dating, it would have been the decent thing to do. Rufus confronts him about it at one point and Sebastian brushes it off as just something that they do and it doesn’t mean anything. These two didn’t seem healthy for each other and their ending up a couple didn’t sit right. The trust issues that were around before the start and that didn’t have the time to get properly worked on were really serious, as evidenced by the quote above when, after Rufus gets the call from April and thinks it’s an ambush that Sebastian could be in on. You don’t go from something like that to what they do on the night in question and have it be a healthy relationship without a heavy duty dose of therapy or something.

Moving on to Rufus and his half-sister April: whatever he did for her during the course of the book, I cannot believe that he would have so easily let her basically drift into his friend group at the end. Considering the torture that she put him through their entire lives, that her family put him through, it didn’t make any sense. It felt like he was letting those things go and that hurt.

 

Rounding the corner, I walked straight into a trap. April stood against the wall, her blue eyes wide and solemn, and she watched with silent fascination as our older brother Hayden and two of his friends spent the next four minutes beating me into a quivering, bloody pulp at her feet.

 

There were also a few smaller things that bugged me that weren’t really important to the overall story line, but were off just enough that my mind kept coming back, like a loose thread. For example, calling a manga volume by it’s subtitle and then switching to the series title without explanation (only fans of the series would realize what had happened) or when Lia, one of the suspects in the murder, says she used prescription cold medicine to dose someone, but did so at a house where she shouldn’t have had access to such a product (where did she even get it??).

It was really hard to get through the book because I realized around 30% that I didn’t care about anyone. I was semi-curious to find out who the murderer was, so I forced myself to finish, but there was no fun, no enjoyment.

 

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

 

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