It's a little bit of a mystery.
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett is pretty mysterious and amazing, because not only is it an adult book with a child protagonist, it's an adult book that reads amazingly like a middle grade novel. In fact, it's very similar to the kind of middle grade novel that wins the Newbery Medal.
- You've got a ten-year-old girl protagonist. (The kind of middle grade book I'm thinking about almost always has a girl protagonist.)
- You've got a dead mom.
- You've got a grieving father.
- You've got a troubled older sister.
- You've got a dog.
- You've got a cast of slightly off-kilter secondary characters in a small town. That guidance counselor is a gem.
- You've got people with unique interests--the main character wants to finish writing her mother's book about animals with sleep issues, and the older sister is at work baking 1,000 rabbit cakes so she can get into the Guinness Book of Records.
- You've got a this-is-how-we-deal-with-death theme.
I think what might make Rabbit Cake a little more adult than middle grade is the length of time covered. Elvis (a girl with a quirky name!) ages two years over the course of the story. Children's stories are usually more compressed, in my experience. While any of the issues raised here can probably be found in an upper middle grade novel (infidelity, for instance), they may be a little deeper in Rabbit Cake. Not disturbingly deep, though. A ten- or twelve-year old girl wise beyond her years could read this.
There is nothing wrong with writing a middle-grade novel for adults, and Rabbit Cake is a well done one. I think a good argument could be made that this particular kind of middle-grade book--girl protagonist, dead mom, grieving family, quirky people in a small town, dog--is of more interest to adults than to children, anyway. It's adults who award these books the Newbery Medal and Honors, after all, and it may be adults who are the primary readers. I've heard that some librarians find them a hard sell for kids.
So all you adult middle grade readers, here's a good one for you.
If you hadn't lost me at "Newbery Award" you would have lost me at grieving family. Ugh. Certainly some children lose parents (two of my friends growing up had), but even my students have commented that the people they know who've lost a parent aren't as obsessed with the event, and that their families seem less dysfunctional than in middle grade books. I want more adult fiction like Jeanne Ray's Calling Invisible Women!
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