Title: White Rabbit
Author: Caleb Roehrig
Category: YA Mystery (LGBTQIAP+)
Publisher/Date: Fiewel & Friends/24 April 2018
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.
This book has content warnings for violence, stabbing, gun violence, murder, attempted murder, drugs, ableist language, homomisia, unhealthy relationships, sexual assault/rape (described but occurred off-page), and a whole lot of blood.
This book was definitely a mixed bag for me — there were things that I really liked and things that I truly hated. Starting with the positives, the mystery itself was quite intriguing. It was a gory mess and not light on the descriptions, which as someone who is a fan of horror I enjoyed, and I was genuinely interested in finding out what happened as Rufus and Sebastian untangled the strings to solve the mystery.
Another thing I really liked was the queer rep. Rufus is gay and has had to deal with a lot of bullying at school and has lost friends because of it, and with Sebastian we have a Black questioning character who thinks he might be bisexual but isn’t really sure, and I LOVE that he’s still questioning by the end of the book. He still acknowledges his feelings for his ex-girlfriend and he acknowledges his feelings for Rufus, but he still doesn’t know exactly where he fits, and I love seeing that in YA. We need more characters who are still trying to figure themselves out. The relationship between Rufus and Sebastian was less appealing to me — Rufus’s attachment to Sebastian felt unhealthy and Sebastian’s behavior at times was stringing Rufus along, and I did not like that power dynamic. I felt that it was a LITTLE better towards the end of the book, but not much.
One other thing I really liked — poverty rep! This book requires a LOT of suspension of disbelief if you’re going to go along with a teenager getting paid by his half-sister’s mom to sidestep the police to solve a murder, but the one thing I did really like about this is that Rufus didn’t downplay how much the fact that his mom needed the money so that they could keep their house factored into his decision to actually do it. He felt so desperate at this point to get the money for his mom that he chose to risk his life to find evidence that April did not murder Fox, and it was kind of heartbreaking. Though the situation otherwise feels kind of ridiculous, this part of the situation rang really true to me.
On the negative side of things — I didn’t feel like I actually knew anything about any of the characters, including our main character, Rufus. The focus was primarily on the mystery itself, and while the mystery was intriguing it fell flat in some places because some of our suspects were little more than just names to us. Aside from their relationships with each other and that some of the characters were drug dealers and such, there was very little differentiating one character from another because none of them actually had a distinct personality. This is definitely a book powered by plot rather than character, so if you’re a character-driven reader you’ll probably want to pass on this one.
Additionally, the writing style itself didn’t mesh with me — the pacing was off and the book felt much longer than it needed to be, and Rufus would often just freeze the scene to describe a scenario that happened in the past to contextualize things and then restart the scene that was playing again, and this felt really forced and awkward and didn’t fit with what should have been a fast-paced novel. Had this been a screenplay instead of a novel I think this flashback technique would have worked better, but within a novel it felt out of place and really slowed things down. I didn’t want Rufus to stop describing what was happening to infodump details of the past on me — I just wanted to get to the story.
Despite the negatives, I still enjoyed this book quite a bit while I was reading it. It’s not one of my favorites, but it was all right. Recommended for those who like plot-driven horrific murder mysteries with little characterization, as long as you don’t mind a bit more of a leisurely pace than you’d expect with this kind of book. If that kind of book isn’t your thing, you might want to consider passing on this one.
Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars