Thursday, April 20, 2017

Wed Wabbit, by Lissa Evans

Staff review by Chris Saliba

When 10-year-old Fidge finds herself magically transported to Wimbley Land, the fictional homeland of the Wimbley Woos, she fears that she may never get back to the real world. Surreal and nonsensical, Wed Wabbit is the funniest kids' book you'll read this year - for adults and children alike. 

Four-year-old Minnie loves her toys, especially her "wed wabbit", a red rabbit plush toy bought from a charity shop. Wed Wabbit seems innocuous enough, although he has "nasty little blackcurrant eyes" according to Minnie's 10-year-old sister, Fidge. Minnie also has a passion for the Wimbley Woos, characters from a children's book series. The Wimbley Woos come in all sorts of different colours, speak in rhyming verse and love sweets. Each colored cohort of Wimbley Woos has a particular skill. Oranges are silly and get in muddles, blues are strong, greys are wise and rarely wrong, pinks like to give cuddles and so on and so forth. When Minnie is knocked over by a car and ends up in hospital, older sister Fidge is charged with making sure her toys are collected and brought to the hospital.

While Minnie is treated in hospital, Fidge must stay with her dreaded cousin Graham. Graham is obnoxious and rather a bit too precious. His parents have him wrapped up in cotton wool, indulging his many neuroses. Performing the most simple daily tasks is a fraught business for Graham. He is scared of almost everything and is self-indulgently morose, consequently he makes for terrible company. He clings to his 'transitional object', a plastic carrot on wheels that he got as part of a vegetable promotion. His transitional object helps him deal with change and work through his worries.

When Fidge and Graham have an argument, Fidge collects all of Minnie's toys - Wed Wabbit, a Wimbley Woos book, a toy elephant named Eleanor and a toy phone - and throws them into a cupboard. The only problem is, it's not a cupboard. Fidge opens the door and enters, now wanting to collect the toys. Then something strange happens: somehow she's in Wimbley Land and all the other toys have now come to life. Worse still, a horrible dictator has taken over Wimbley Land. How to get out?

It's hard to find fault with Wed Wabbit, Lissa Evans' third novel for children (she also writes for adults.) The unbelievable and totally zany plot is stitched together so perfectly that not a seam shows. The story is full of wonderful innovation and clever surprises. Often the reader wonders how some of the trickier aspects of the story will be resolved, only to be delighted with something so mad, yet also entirely plausible considering it is Wimbley Land.

For the most part Wed Wabbit is a comedy adventure. There's a laugh a page, and it may just be that adults find the book even funnier than the kids. It reads as a spoof on the syrupy, simplistic literature of young readers, a bit like the Teletubbies meets The Lord of the Flies. Wimbley Land is all butterflies, twittering birds, blue skies and endless lollies and cakes. Pink Wimbley Woos answer all problems with the offer of a hug (not as mad as it seems in Wimbley Land, as offering a hug averts a major crisis in the book).

The text is reminiscent of many children's classics, without being derivative. This is certainly one inventive and highly original book. Nonetheless, it's easy to feel the influence of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. There are even touches of The Secret Garden, especially with Graham's transformation from whinger to more robust young man. The mad jollity and English eccentricity of P.G. Wodehouse also comes through.

Does Wed Wabbit have a particular message? It's hard to tell. While nominally it's about Fidge working out her emotional problems (her father recently died and she's become a little emotionally withdrawn) the novel is essentially a nonsense tale, surreal and topsy-turvy in the manner of Alice in Wonderland, and resists any serious interpretation. It's a ride to be enjoyed, one to scream as you go faster. Yet the story is so intelligently and skillfully done, and tickles the brain so thoroughly, that perhaps further readings will yield deeper secrets in the text.

Wed Wabbit, by Lissa Evans. Published by David Fickling. ISBN: 9781910989432 RRP: $19.99

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