Review by Stephanie Attebery

Jack Rabbit Moon tells the story of Marnie Evans, a young, destitute Texas girl on summer break in the squalid home she shares with her negligent momma. Marnie frequently escapes to the nearby state park, in search of a home amongst nature-loving people like herself, hoping that they will give her the care and attention that she craves. She thinks that she has found this in the middle-aged childless couple she befriends, Claire and "Ranger Rick" Carpenter, who live a simple and well-n ourished life within the boundaries of the park.

Without some exploration into the book, one might dismiss this as a happy-go-lucky story, a too neatly tied-up tale of the little red riding-hood variety. What saves it from that fate is an assortment of characters whose good and horrible tendencies blur in delightfully real and complicated ways.

On the surface, each character possesses some overwhelming good or bad trait. Marnie is a relentless dreamer. She embellishes every event that she witnesses, believing her father's predictions about the jack rabbits that ominously swirl by before something bad occurs. Claire is a tireless Samaritan, baking and cooking for what seems like the entire town, taking care of an elderly and lonely woman when no one else will. Ranger Rick is a guitar-pla ying, singing, historian who holds a weekly campfire story and sing-along with all the kiddies, parents in tow. Some possess darker characteristics. Marnie's ne'er do good mother Jeanie, for instance, and the abusive drunk, Vaughn, who she calls her boyfriend. Marnie's father, Charlie, fresh back into town for shady, unexplained reasons. Aunt Shelby, who insists she is the protector of Marnie's sinner soul. And of course, there is Buddy, the un-likeable busy body, always stirring some pot in the supermarket or flower shop.

Darden allows the reader into the private thoughts of each character, enough that it prevents the book from simply becoming a story of good triumphing over bad. She keeps the protagonists from being too perfect and the antagonists too unlikable to bother with. Marnie thinks little kids at the ranger's nature hour are stupid and wimpy. She knows she can manipulate the heart of Claire, who wants Marnie as her own child right off the bat. Despite being a drunk more concerned with applying her makeup than caring for her offspring, Jeanie is still able to laugh with her daughter when they are home alone together. Marnie's father Charlie, fresh out of prison (or so she is lead to believe by her mamma), takes Marnie on a trip for ice cream. He is drunk and twitching as she eats her treat, but she is still pleased by him for the simple fact that he is her father. Rick loves his wife and his job as a park ranger, but he begrudgingly welcomes Marnie into the home he shares with Claire, keeping his guard up all the time, and always expecting trouble from the little girl. Claire sometimes tires of the old woman she cares for, and argues with her despite knowing that her senility makes it futile. We all do these things after all, don't we?

Darden's pacing is in real-time and the narrative moves in the slightly free-associative way that people's minds tend to work, especially concerning young Marnie, who while wandering through the woods, could drift from thoughts of the Ranger's moustache, to an anthill, to wishing her mom's awful boyfriend Vaughn bodily harm, (a wish that justice ultimately grants).

Living in an urban environment, I always have to judge a book for readability on the bus, and this one is well within compliance of my guidelines. The print is overall very readable, with the exception of a few localized areas of blurred text. The weight of the book and font are pleasant for commute reading.

The cover artwork is very pleasing, showing the stripped, impoverished home of=2 0Marnie as a minor part of a big wild landscape, brown-eyed susans in the foreground, a misty twilight full moon in the background. In fact the cover simply complements the spirit of the book and the characters within it, who thrive and sink in this terrible, wonderful world. The park, in all its beauty, is a great location for this kind of tale, and Darden describes it beautifully. Without spoiling anything, there is plenty of action to boot, showcasing the Texas wilderness in all its beauty and deadliness.

I look forward to more Garner Park Stories in the future!

Review by Peter Jones from the Bauu Institute

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There are a lot of novels that have been written over the years about family dynamics. Some of the more popular ones in recent years include: The Hour I First Believed: A Novel by Wally Lamb and Carolina Harmony by Marilyn Taylor McDowell. However, none of these have really struck a cord with me. Perhaps it is because they have been based far in the past, or in places that I have never been. Or maybe it is just because I could never relate to the characters and story. Therefore, when I got a copy of the recently published Jack Rabbit Moon by Dorraine Darden, I had a little trepidation. Although based in the present-day and taking place in Texas, I was still a little cautious. However, within a few chapters I put aside my hesitation and delved in; so much so that when I went to New Mexico for vacation it was the only book I took.

Long story short, I finished the book on the second day of vacation. Marnie Evans is the spunky, self-determined little girl that Dorraine weaves a tale of family hardship, natural beauty, and true friendship around. Finding refuge in the wilds of Garner State Park from her alcoholic mother and her abusive boyfriend, Marnie delves into the beauty and solitude of all of natures bounty. On her wandering journeys through the woods Marnie encounters "Ranger Rick," the Park ranger who along with his wife, takes Marnie under their wing and shares with her the life she is missing at home.

The story could end here - and most readers would be content if it did - but this is just the beginning. There are flash floods to deal with, crazy college kids who cause problems in the park, the return of Marnie's father, and the shooting of Marnie herself. Making sure these various threads fit with the larger story is no small feat; but when they do it is the work of a skilled writer. Dorraine Darden does an excellent job, weaving together a rich tapestry that any serious reader would be pleased to read.

Jack Rabbit Moonis not the typical novel on family dynamics and misfortune. Rather, it is a fresh tale on the healing power of nature and friendship. Told from multiple perspectives, Jack Rabbit Moongives the reader a heart warming tale fit for our times. When the world is in chaos, corruption is rampant, and good deeds seem like a thing of the past, Jack Rabbit Moon is a refreshing read.

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Eleven-year-old Marnie Evans longs to be precious. She wishes on stars for parents who adore her, even though her family is dysfunctional. She also believes that jack rabbits and a boot-wearing Texas angel show her mysterious signs of things to come. Continue Reading

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