An engaging and thoughtful coming-of-age tale.




Two royal siblings—turned into rabbits—search for a unicorn spirit to reverse the spell, discovering who they are in the process.

In the prologue, Naso, the jerboa mouse who narrates this debut novel, explains that a human palace’s mural depicts “an odd-looking, skinny rabbit with a crown…holding a sword in the air. That is the Rabbit Princess.” The main story, told in present tense, concerns how she came to be. In the opening chapters, the widower Emperor lives with his two children, the Princess Annie, 12, and her younger brother, Crown Prince Pika, 10, in a great palace. There, the spoiled children, especially Annie, “torment the staff all day long.” When she has a young boy thrown in jail for failing to kowtow, it’s the final straw, inciting the villagers to rebel. The Emperor and his general are sentenced to execution, and Shaman Wu turns the children into their favorite stuffed animals, banishing them to the Snow Forest. Annie is now a skinny, yellow rabbit, and Pika, a short, chubby white one. They meet a friend in Naso, who explains that a “heartless and unforgiving” tiger spirit named Moyen rules a massive kingdom, excepting Cloud Mountain and Dragon Desert. Qilin, a unicorn and “the mother of all spirits,” lives in the Desert and could help the rabbits, but Moyen has war on his mind and special plans for Annie. The siblings have some animal and spirit allies, but the journey won’t be easy. Nevertheless, with courage, new fighting skills, and especially hope, the rabbits might be able to find the unicorn—and their purpose. In his book, Chen offers a well-written fable about growing up through confronting shortcomings and learning to be of service to others. The siblings’ transformations into living stuffed animals is a neatly symbolic way of showing how they’ve become alienated from their human nature. Annie has the longest way to go in dropping her selfish ways and accepting her metamorphosis as a path toward self-knowledge. At first, jailed with her brother, her insight stretches only as far as her immediate family. In a “moment of pure clarity,” she realizes “she just wants her family safe.” Later, she earns respect by her focus on healing and helping other animals. In addition, the novel’s setting is intriguing, with its mix of more modern culture (for example, the stuffed animals) and figures from Chinese legend (the unicorn). While often ruminative about subjects like moral choices and the nature of evil, the story also delivers exciting action scenes and bold descriptions; Moyen’s “stark yellow eyes look like dead demons burning.” Episodes of animals killing one another might be tough for tenderhearted readers to take. The author’s economic black-and-white sketches help readers visualize the siblings’ alterations and nicely capture the various animals’ personalities, such as a panda’s searching look.

An engaging and thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73271-890-6

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Osani Studios, Inc.

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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