When the Rabbit Jumps
By Allan David Mowat
FriesenPress, 485 pages
Reviewed by Kathryne Cardwell
This debut novel tells a touching and thought-provoking story about the bonds that develop between strangers, and the satisfaction that comes from helping others.
The story opens in the central United States during the early 1980s, introducing readers to Jarrod Wakefield, a fugitive from gambling debts and embezzlement charges, and Lucas Kenny, an orphaned adolescent on the run from the latest in a string of bad foster placements. For reasons neither of them can understand or explain, they develop a friendship that goes deeper than simple survival.
“Kiddo,” thinks Jarrod, “I sure as hell don’t know what to do with you tomorrow, but one thing I promise: I won’t desert you.” Together, the pair set out to escape the authorities by crossing the border into Canada. As they make their slow journey, the Jarrod and Lucas encounter a host of characters who help or hinder their progress.
These characters vividly evoke the world of small-town America: a combination doctor/vet who works from his home, a warm-hearted farmwife, alcoholic gamblers with nothing left to lose, and a sadistic cult that tries to entice Lucas into a world for which he has no desire.
As much as Jarrod and Lucas want to start over, they realize that it may be impossible to fully leave behind their past. Only by facing their demons can they truly be free. Interestingly, Lucas and Jarrod’s fictional quest to reach the safety of Canada draws parallels with today’s real plight of refugees walking across the Canadian border to claim asylum.
In Jarrod and Lucas, Mowat skillfully creates characters who are likeable despite their flaws. While Jarrod and Lucas hold, at best, indifference for the laws of the land, they subscribe to a firm moral and ethical code. In one touching incident, Lucas leaves a thank you note for a kindly older couple who took him in, even as he steals a winter hat from them. In another, after a lone woodsman feeds and warms up Jarrod and Lucas, the pair leave quickly, with Jarrod explaining, “We have to leave. I don’t want you getting into trouble because of us.”
The story may remind readers of children’s and young adult writer Alison Hughes’s 2017 novel, Hit The Ground Running, about a young brother and sister fleeing the U.S. for their aunt’s home in Canada to avoid being taken into foster care.
Mowat spent many years volunteering with young men in tough situations, and his insight and genuine concern shows in his story.
Readers will leave the story with a greater understanding of children in need, and better empathy for those who live on the dark side of the law.
Kathryne Cardwell is a Winnipeg writer.
Allan Mowat never did like to work regularly. He could easily have lived the life of a hobo or beach bum. Combining his wanderlust, ability to relate with intriguing people of all ages, and an active imagination, Allan was able to finally complete his first novel.