This debut fantasy finds a village of animals seeking autonomy from corrupting outside forces.
Rochelle Rabbit wants to organize her life; specifically, she wants to avoid engaging in village gossip and also save some money. She’s also disturbed by a pestilent black bird that flies over everyone’s houses, doing surveillance. One day, Rochelle is invited to come to tea and dinner at the opulent home of Bessie Bunny, who looks like “a fashion photo from those slick magazines.” Despite the fact that it will be a gossipfest, Rochelle carefully chooses what to wear to attend the elegant soiree. At dinner, Bessie announces a writing contest for “the best story yet,” to be judged by her own children; many compete, but the promised cash prize is never awarded. Later, Rochelle compares her modest home with Bessie’s, where so many types of woodland animals gather to enjoy extravagant meals. To make more money, she takes a job delivering packages for Bessie’s company. But the organization’s setup feels odd, as nobody questions what’s in the packages, nor why certain employees get uniforms, trucks, and better routes. Then one day, Rochelle accidentally drops a package, which contains a mysterious white powder. Author Festge creates a fantastic fable that illustrates the dangers of materialism and conformity. In the story’s first third, Rochelle’s journey from motivated villager to paranoid worker is enjoyably surreal but still grounded in reality; at the outset, for example, she notes that “A house too clean may hide the unhappiness of the people in it” and that in stores, “Many times, specials aren’t really special.” The tone borders on wry, which will entertain adults, and middle-grade readers will absorb lessons from the fact that Bessie makes the villagers have “wants we never had before.” But Bessie’s plotline wraps up quickly to make room for numerous societal critiques of the drudgery of work, the effects of poor nutrition, and hospital care that treats patients like experiments. Young readers may not understand Rochelle’s later challenges involving a sinister “modernization project,” but her kindness toward others is plain enough to see.
An engaging fable that sometimes tries to juggle too many of society’s ills.