Book Review: Rabbits in the Garden by Jessica McHugh

10504227Title: Rabbits in the Garden
Author: Jessica McHugh
Genre: Horror, Psychological Horror, Thriller
Published: February 28th 2011 by Post Mortem Press
Pages: 226
Rating: 5 stars
Review copy provided by the author.
Goodreads | Author’s Website

At twelve 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 thirteen, 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.

Avery Norton is your average twelve year old girl, albeit the fact her Mom is an overprotective, meddling and slightly disturbed woman. Although her mother’s behavior stands in her way of making friends, Avery is perfectly fine with the friend she does have: Paul. He is kind, considerate and caring, and he doesn’t mind that her mother says weird things or looks at them oddly. However, when Avery and Paul follow her mother one night in the back of her car, they discover some disturbing things. Is her mother really ditching a body, or are the two youngsters seeing things?

When Avery’s mom gives her a garden as a birthday present, she doesn’t like it at first. And when her mother tells this crazy story about rabbits cheating on each other, and that they need to be punished for such prudent behavior, she isn’t quite alarmed. That is, until her mother kills the rabbits to set an example. Traumatized, Avery is determined to take good care of the garden, so nothing happens to the water and the rabbits behave appriopriately, so her mother doesn’t see any reason to kill them. But when her world comes crashing upon her, and she incidentally kills one of the rabbits herself, and ends up in a closed shed in the garden with at least a dozen mutilated corpses, Avery is quite sure things couldn’t get any worse. Her own mother is a serial killer. And her long lost father, was her very first victim.

But thanks to some excellent manipulation from her side, her mom convinces every one that Avery is the one responsible for the murders. Locked up in a mental asylum, Avery is determined to prove the truth to the outside world: that it wasn’t her, but her mother who killed all those innocent people. But as she starts to question her own sanity, and wonders if perhaps her mother had been telling the truth, it gets harder and harder for Avery to keep believing in her own innocence.

I fell in love with Rabbits in the Garden from page one. The storyline is thrilling, suspenseful and highly original. But it’s truly the characters that make this book. Avery’s mother’s behaviour seems odd from the start, but I never paid much attention to it until it developed into plain disturbing. She has a firm belief in loyalty to one partner, she’s a very devote person, and wants Avery to believe in the same principles as she does. She’s very suspicious of Avery’s relationship with her neighbour Paul, although the two hardly did anything more than hold hands and share a brief birthday kiss. But Avery’s mother isn’t just delusional and paranoid, or slightly disturbed. The way Jessica McHugh builds the tension in this novel, by slowly revealing the amount of insanity that is possessing Avery’s mom, is really close to brilliant. I was both amazed and pitrified as the events unfolded, and the absurdity of the situation became clear.

I thought the scene with the corpses in the shed/basement was both gruesome and terrifying and really, really well-written. It felt more like being in a movie than like reading a book, and I imagined the heroine in the horror flick putting her hands on things hanging in her way in the dark, without any real clue as to what they are. And then when realisation hits her, the amount of terror she experiences is overwhelming. Naturally, this happens to Avery too, and her emotions, shock and despair are really well described in this scene. It’s probably my favorite scene from the entire book, and from a book as good as this one, that’s saying something.

Although life is far from easy for Avery, she has a very strong and willful personality, and I could not help but think she must have inherited some of these characteristics from her mother. Her sister Natalie, is a lot less determined and headstrong than Avery, perhaps that’s one of the reasons why their mother never saw her as that much of a treat. The scenes in the mental asylum were very authentic as well. I could imagine being there from the way Jessica McHugh described the building, the patients and the doctors. The sence of injustice I got at Avery’s treatment was so strong and profound that I found myself occasionally raging at the system, the police and Avery’s lunatic mother.

I enjoyed the fact that the author doesn’t only focus on Avery’s trials in the mental asylum, but that she provides her with a cast of friends with their own share of troubles. All the characters, from the protagonists to the janitor of the asylum (so to speak, there isn’t any janitor actually mentioned) were very well defined, with their own set of distinct personality traits and their own history. Jessica McHugh’s writing style is very fluent, very gripping, and the storyline is amazing enough to keep you glued to your chair for well over two hours. By the time I had finished reading, I had long left the day-to-day world, and entered the scary, threatening and terrifying world of mental asylums and delusional mothers with gruesome hobbies. When I turned the last page of the book, it did take me a couple of minutes to let go of the suffocating and slightly unnerved feeling I had felt the entire time while reading, and to relax again. I had barely noticed, but my muscles had tensed and I had crawled on the far edge of the  seat on the train, practically hiding myself in the corner. I love it when a book does that.

Rabbits in the Garden doesn’t have the most gorgeous cover in the entire world, but this is one of those books that you really cannot judge by its cover.  The storyline is paralyzing, the writing style is flawless, the characters are bizarre, intriguing and sometimes even down-right terrifying.  This is horror the way it should be – crawling under your skin slowly, from page one till the very end, and turning the world as you know it into something scary and unfamiliar. The kind of book that, after reading it, makes you look at people and think ‘what the heck goes on in their mind’ and wonder if maybe one of them is as sick and disturbed as Avery’s mother. The sort of book that doesn’t let you go, but keeps you in this tightening grip for a long while, and sometimes makes you question your own sanity.

If Hollywood finally grows tired of those zombie-apocalyptic novels, or those scary-monster-ones and needs a really good horror book to turn into a script, then I would recommend Rabbits in the Garden (if I had any connections with Hollywood directors, that is). It’s a master piece in the horror genre, and it left me very impressed. Feel free to read it for yourself, but don’t blame me if you have trouble sleeping afterwards, or if you start wondering if perhaps that old-fashioned and firm-on-principles lady in the apartment downstairs really is a serial killer, and you could be next on her list.


  1. This is an excellent review! I never heard of this book before but I will be putting it in my TBR pile.


  1. […] Read my review for Rabbits in the Garden. […]

  2. […] Song of Eidolons 4. A Touch of Scarlet 5. Camelot Lost | See my review 6. Rabbits in the Garden | See my review Arthur Pendragon’s ascension to High King of Britain lays a doting world at his feet, but when […]

Speak Your Mind