At 12 years old, Avery Norton had everything: a boyfriend who was also her best friend, the entirety of Martha's Vineyard as her playground, and her very own garden to tend. By 13, it was all over. The discovery of a secret crypt in the basement starts the Norton family down many unexpected avenues, including one that leads to Avery's arrest for murder and her subsequent imprisonment in Taunton State Lunatic Asylum. Set in 1950s Massachusetts, Rabbits in the Garden follows Avery Norton's struggle to prove her innocence and escape Taunton with her mind intact.
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I really enjoyed this audiobook yet I must caution: the subject matter is perturbed and this is no happy story. This book brings into question themes of evil, innocence, justice and the many forms of mental illness and coping mechanisms the human psyche allows. My expectations were not so different from what I was provided but I will admit I was taken aback several times by the the capacity of evil McHugh's world permits. Just when I thought the pain and suffering was over, more gasoline was poured onto the fire.
Mc Hugh's writing has a unique, mature quality about it and she is able to evoke so many powerful emotions. I experienced a great deal of anger, frustration, sorrow and longing for our heroine, Avery. Also, let me say what an INCREDIBLE VILLAIN Faye is. Puritanical, twisted, self-righteous to the extreme and a master of manipulation, cruelty and deceit. I don't think I've been so captivated and utterly repulsed by any fictional character in this manner before. Faye is not your predictable, stereo-typed villain. She is your worst nightmare. Mc Hugh is also a clever writer; the metaphor and symbolism are no strangers to her. By the second chapter, I would not be surprised if you found yourself, mouth agape at the realization of title's meaning "Rabbits In the Garden."
As an audiobook, Mc Hugh's characters are brought to life through Kristin Allison's beautiful narration. She is highly skilled and was able to deliver the most flawless inflections and voice variations among the different characters. She was excellent.
I would absolutely recommend this book if you are looking for well written page-turner, something creepy and something with meaning and substance.
***Although this was no happy story, I ended this book with a twisted sense of satisfaction. GREAT ENDING!
- Sharron "I LOVE haunting, atmospheric writing that plays in your head like a movie. I adore books of a mysterious, suspenseful and creepy nature.
I am a big fan of Horror/Zombie/Apocalypse and other genres which center on Mystery and strong character development."
I have a shelf in my library called the "GOAT" shelf (Greatest Of All Time). These are my favorite books that I have read. They are books that I have read multiple times or plan to read multiple times. These are books that helped define my taste. They are books that made me feel something, various emotions, sadness, fear, and disgust. They have also made me feel humor and provoked thought. I am saying all of this because Rabbits In The Garden by Jessica McHugh has made my GOAT shelf. This is my second time reading it and I did listen to the audiobook the second time. I read a hard copy of Rabbits a few years ago before I was writing any reviews on Amazon or anything like that. After the second reading, I loved it even more than the first time and felt compelled to write a review.
Avery Norton is a 12-year old girl living a relatively normal life in Martha's Vineyard. Avery's mother, Faye, seems a little uptight but Avery is really too young to notice Faye's psychosis. Avery is in love with a neighborhood boy named Paul. During a visit from Avery's sister Natalie, who is in town from boarding school, encourages Avery to follow her feelings, leading to her first kiss with Paul. All the butterflies are there and McHugh does a great job with describing the confusing yet obsessive feelings of young love. Once Faye realizes what is going on she flips her lid and punishes Avery. She forces Avery to tend their garden which has been the site of her mother's puritan lessons and is a metaphor for how Faye views the world. In anger Avery lashes out in at the rabbits in the garden, killing a few of them. Avery feels terrible about doing this and while trying to hide the bunny corpses stumbles across her mother's slaughterhouse. When Avery comes too she realizes not only her mother is psychotic but she has set Avery up as punishment for her relationship with Paul. Avery is locked away in a psych facility named Taunton and this is when the book picks up and becomes one of the most compelling psychological thrillers I have ever read.
Faye is one of the evilest characters I have ever experienced in my readings. If you love villainous matriarchs, like Adeline Parr from Michael Rowe's Enter Night, you will absolutely love Faye Norton. Everything Faye does to Avery is so vicious, but in her mind she is righteous and it makes everything so infuriating. In all of McHugh's books I have read, there is some kind of complicated family dynamic. The author always handles it with such superb depth. Love is what prevails through all of the horrors. Not corny love, but such a strong bond between people that it can cross dimensions and withstand supernatural intervention. While in Taunton, Avery is fighting for her freedom and sanity but she is also coming of age. The majority of the book is set during her time in Taunton from age 12-18. I wanted so badly for Avery to get out and have a normal life but I don't think it is a spoiler to say she doesn't get that. She is hardened and tortured both physically and mentally by an inept mental health system in the 1950's. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the book for me is when Avery escapes from Taunton and makes her way to Paul. They immediately drop everything to get married and start a life together. They have been wanting this normalcy so long they don't consider she has just escaped a mental institution and there is no way this will work out. It reminds me of the scene from the movie Fury where Brad Pitt and another young soldier take two pretty German women hostage and play house with them for a few hours. It is not real, but they want it to be real so bad they are willing to pretend to have this normal life outside of war with two hostages. The ending is perfect, in true Mchugh fashion the suspense crescendos to a revenge scene that would make Lady Vengeance proud.
I have both read Rabbits In The Garden and listened to the audiobook and suggest either form. Kristin Allison, the narrator of the audiobook, definitely does the story justice and brings the characters to life just how I imagined them in my head the first time I read it. Another thing I notice about all of McHugh's books, but this one, in particular, is how air tight the plots are. As soon as I would think I found a plot hole McHugh would immediately cover it. After Avery was thrown in Taunton I thought to myself, where the hell is her sister? Bam, the next chapter is Natalie's perspective. It is written in a more linear narrative than the other books I have read by McHugh but none the less it is an upward trajectory of suspense, horror, and turmoil until the very end. You have everything in this book: a serial killer, torture, and ghosts but in the true Mchugh fashion you have raw emotion, love, and even a few jokes here and there. I feel like I have seen Ms. Mchugh mention on social media a possible sequel to this book and I sincerely do hope that is true. Regardless, I want to welcome Rabbits In The Garden to my GOAT shelf.