Cover Image: King of Rabbits

King of Rabbits

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Member Reviews

I picked this title based on the blurb alone, it sounded great. I've had to put the book down at 42% and DNF it. I just could not get on with it. 
I felt no connection to the characters and main protagonist Kai. 

The dialogue was iritating and focused on Kai's parents for so long. It was clear to get a picture of what they were like but I felt like this point was laboured for far too long into the story. I wanted something significant to happen and it was not happening. I couldn't keep going, it's a shame as I was excited to read this book. 

Thank you to the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read this book.
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f you are looking for a book to chew you up and spit you out then look no further than King of Rabbits. It’s raw and gritty and emotive.

“Doesn’t everyone start life happy?  I did…I was happy till I was six.”

Kai lives on a council estate with his mum, sisters and deadbeat dad. Kai’s mum has four kids by different dads and an alcohol problem she is always threatening to give up. His dad is a petty thief with a history of hard drug use and the two are a poor influence on each other.

As a mum the casual drug use, heaving drinking and sexual activity in front of her children horrified me and I felt furious for much of the book.

The book is set in two timelines and there is a vast difference in mood in the two timelines. In the first timeline I felt like Kai’s life was only bleak for the rider, he was more than happy with the situation. In the second timeline the reality of his family life has fully hit home and it is bleak.

“Close my eyes. Mind keeps running over the same old shit. How it was then. How it is now. How I need to get away.”

In the first timeline Kai has hopes and dreams, he wants to be a treehouse builder when he is older or failing that he wants to be a thief like his dad. He and his best friend Saffie share this ambition and decide to practice their skills as often as possible.

In the second timeline Kai feels hopeless, trapped in a life and relationship he doesn’t want and like he has no one to talk to.

King of Rabbits was unbearably sad and highly readable.
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The most saddening, heart-breaking story told in this debut from Karla Neblett.

Kai is a wonderfully innocent, endearing young boy, living with his parents and siblings in a Somerset council estate. He struggles to comprehend the meaning of love, witnessing his parents frequent arguments and absences, and takes solace in his friendship with childhood sweetheart Saffie...and his need to care for another living creature, being the school rabbit Flopsy.

Neblett moves between Kai’s perspective in the first person narrative in 2004, and the ‘then’ passages written in third person...which I felt reflected the Kai that was ‘then’ and the Kai who’s perspective we see in 2004 being quite different.

Neblett creates characters you adore (in Kai and his loving Nanny Sheila), those you detest (too many to count), and those in between...that you feel frustrated by, and utterly disappointed in. She creates real, flawed humans, and evokes a strong emotive response in the reader. 

My only criticism is that I feel she could have explored Kai’s gentle and nurturing nature to a much greater extent through his love for his rabbits, especially given it is so key to the title. I also felt that there was a lot of focus on his parents and their relationship that at times resulted in the novel being a little slow to develop and maintain engagement.

There are difficult themes in this novel, and it challenges perception and prejudice. It explores many of our emotional needs as human beings, to love and be loved, for freedom and hope, and it also considers the consequences of decisions and actions on us, and those around us.

Trigger warnings for this novel include: drug abuse, racial prejudice, animal cruelty, and suicidal thoughts and actions.

This book is deeply moving, and the definition of a tragedy. It is so real, honest, and relevant. I would definitely recommend this book...however not without preparing for your heart to be broken...and I would strongly advise having a hot drink and a hug waiting for you when you finish reading.
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King of Rabbits is an astonishing debut, filled with complex issues and a sense of tragedy never dispelled.

The story revolves around Kai, and moves backwards and forwards, focusing on his life as a 6 year old, and now, as a 15 year old. Kai lives with his Mum, Dad and three older sisters. He has a best friend Saffie, and an amazing Nanny Sheila. He thinks his Dad is the coolest, but Kai is exposed to things no child should be. His parents openly take drugs in front of him, and he's more than aware his father is a thief. There is also domestic violence and alcohol abuse. He is likely dyslexic, and this goes unrecognised. His escape is going to the woods, watching his favourite animals - rabbits - and he builds a den which becomes his solace.

15 year old Kai has become everything he didn't want to be. Drinking, taking drugs and adrift without his best friend, he has only his Nanny to turn to. But he sinks further and further into hopelessness and depression, and there is no happy ending in this bleak, but wonderfully written debut.

I became fully engaged with Kai's story and at times it almost read more like a memoir as the detail was so intricate and compelling. This is not a story for the fainthearted and there are potential triggers but for anyone interested in the complexity of human relationships, family dynamics, addiction and mental health, this is a must read.
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I had high hopes for King of rabbits but unfortunately I just couldn't get into it or  finish it, the timeline kept jumping around and I had no idea what was going on and it is so bleak, maybe it will be one I'll return to.
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Dear heavens! This isn't a book you can enjoy. It's staggering. It's bleak. It's terribly sad, although there are teeny little glimpses of beauty, here and there. It's heartbreaking. It's well worth reading.
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Oh, Kai. My heart broke slowly throughout your story, beginning with little cracks growing bigger and bigger, until you made it crumble to dust entirely.

Neblett shows us Kai’s story through two timeframes - one as a child, and the other as a teenager. We see him growing up on a council estate, seeing things he shouldn’t, experiencing things he shouldn’t, and we’re allowed to see his child’s mind interpreting what’s going on around him. He creates worlds in his mind, plans his future with his best friend Saffie, makes everything magical with his imagination. Then, we see him older, more mature, yet irrevocably damaged. He knows what’s going on in his life, and he no longer turns to magic to escape.

The cruelties delivered to Kai through the circumstances of his life are unfair, and horrid. It’s clear through both narratives how these cruelties come to shape Kai’s understanding of the world, and his opinions of it. It’s an incredibly bleak, yet hopelessly realistic view of the lives of many. Despite falling in love with Kai, and hoping beyond hope he has the strength to fight the lessons his upbringing has taught him, there’s an overarching feeling that this boy has little to hope for.

Neblett’s writing style is a crucial and perfect voice for Kai. She presents us with the stark realities of his home life, and yet peppers through some humour and bright spots. She weaves, she hints, she sets out all the signs for us. We can only hope we’re able to read them properly - I couldn’t until the last minute, until it was all too late.

This is an important story because it focuses on the everyday, on the boys who grow up surrounded by poverty and drugs, who experience things at a young age which aren’t meant for little boys. I spoke briefly with Neblett, and she told me she just had to write this novel, as the stories of these boys are rarely told. And she’s absolutely right - we don’t speak about these horrors, we do little to stop them. How many boys have ended up like Kai? How many more?
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A story about love and tragedy told in two timelines; Kai and Saffie aged 5-6 and Kai and Yaz aged 15. 

I mainly requested this book because of the title (I have 3 rabbits). The story wasn’t really about the rabbits, but about the love Kai had to give and was seeking (including love for wild rabbits, his school rabbit called Flopsy, his nans rabbit called Rabbit and his best friend Saffie). I liked there were rabbits in the story and the symbolism and meaning behind it - very clever!

Neblett’s writing is powerful and she is clearly a brilliant writer. The characters felt true and authentic, it didn’t feel overly dramatised and exaggerated. She created a sense of joy and sadness, but maybe more sadness than joy. I found it difficult read at times and extremely emotional. I felt I may have needed more of a warning at the beginning to get through the trauma within the book (drug and alcohol abuse, self harm and suicide).

Not sure I would recommend to family and friends, unless they had a particular interest in childhood-teenage trauma, drug and alcohol abuse and mental health, but it was a good book. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Random
House UK publishers AND Karla Neblett for this book!
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Ah geez this was a hard read for me, heartbreaking to watch young Kai and his siblings and how they lived, my kids think they’re hard done to when they can’t have takeaway two nights in a row and if they were older (13&14) I’d force feed them this book so they could see just how good they have it...!!!

Goes back n forth from Kai been 5 and then 15 and the difference is vast, he’s so innocent and just adorable and then at 15 your begging him not to make the same mistakes his parents did.

A honestly gripping but emotional book that will have you in bits in some parts, that’s sis do couldn’t stop reading  and when Kai was little it’s was lovely seeing the world through his eyes, sad in lots of places and just had me shaking my head, I wanted to jump in and take him away from it all, what’s worse is knowing there are plenty more out there living like this right now and that’s just heartbreaking for me 😞 

A book that all should read in my opinion even though the content is hard going and bleak at times, a seriously good novel and you’ll be wondering about Kai well after you’ve finished.
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Gosh what a bleak story. Brings to mind Shuggie Bain. The book alternates between Kai at 5 years old and Kai at 15. At 5 he is living at home with his black mum and white dad, and his 3 sisters who all have different fathers. I got the impression before coming to this book that it was about a mixed race boy growing up in predominantly white Somerset, and the challenges that held for him. However, race is hardly ever an issue apart from a racial slur at school by another 5year old. The book is more about the shocking surroundings in which Kai and his sisters are being raised. His parents are alcoholics and drug users, and regularly leave drug paraphernalia around the house, leading to a couple of dangerous close calls. They live in a run down council estate, his father and friends are thieves and on many occasions bring home their loot for the family to pick over and choose their favourite 'presents'. Kai absolutely adores his father, and is desperate for him to stop taking drugs. The only time Kai is taken out of these toxic circumstances is when he goes to school, where he spends time with his best friend Saffie, when he goes with Saffie to their secret den in the Woods to watch the rabbits, and when he goes to his Grandma's house to spend time with her. You spend the whole time hoping that someone, whether it's teachers, the grandma, or even social services, would pay more attention to what is going on in Kai's life. However, when we read the sections with 15 Yr old Kai, we see that rather than escaping the situation, Kai has followed in the footsteps of his parents and become a drinker and drug taker. He is fully aware of what has happened and is desperate to extricate himself from this life. We learn about other harrowing incidents in his life that have happened which just add to the sadness of the life he has found himself in. 

I wish there was something else to this story - I skim read a lot of sections because it was all so depressing and I was searching for some ray of hope, which alas never came. There's no plot to the story, just a sad and moving description of life on the 'wrong side of the tracks', and how hard it is to escape.
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In many ways, 5 year old Kai is much like many other 5 year olds. He lives on a rural council estate in Somerset, idolises his Dad and big sister, and loves hanging out in the school nature garden with his best friend Saffie or watching wild rabbits from their woodland den. Where Kai’s life differs to many is his unstable homelife. His parents have an erratic on/off relationship and, through the course of the book, we see him and his sisters escalating exposure to their parents thieving and dependency on alcohol and drugs. His Nanny Sheila is the one stable adult in his life but as Kai’s parents encourage him and his sisters to keep home truths from her, it is questionable whether her efforts to provide stability for Kai and his three sisters will be enough.

Told from two timelines, we see 5/6 year old Kai as he fantasises about escaping to the Silver Moon with best friend Saffie and 15 year old Kai, already clearly landed on the wrong side of the tracks struggling to make good and find a way out.

I’m not sure I would have picked up this book had I known the full story that awaited me but I’m very glad to have read it. I finished reading it a few days ago and find that, since finishing, Kai and Saffie are never very far from my thoughts. An excellent debut novel – I am already looking forward to whatever Karla Neblett may write next.

Many thanks to Net Galley and Randomn House UK, Cornerstone for an advance copy of King of Rabbits.
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Kai's story is told in two halves. When he is a small child of 6 and then again when he is 15. At all times he is really a child being bought up in a very dysfunctional family. He is the youngest child with 3 elder sisters all of whom have different fathers. Kai idolises his father although he is a petty thief and along with his wife (Kai's mother) they are also alcoholics and drug addicts.
The school along with a 'Nana' and an elder sister try to look out for him but a tragedy that occurs when he is six scars him for life.
A very emotional and difficult to read book.
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the advance copy of this book.
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King of Rabbits is a story of a child bought up in a family ravaged by drug addiction, poverty and crime. The story is revealed by both 5-year-old Kai and his teenage self. One is full of optimism; his only concern is whether he can become the fastest runner in his primary school. 15-year-old Kai, however, is defined by a past tragedy and seems set to follow his parents’ mistakes. At times heart-breaking, at others hopeful, King of Rabbits is a stunningly well-executed debut novel.
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I struggled with this because it was so sad and maybe too personal for me having worked with young people in similar situations but I’m sure it will do well with other readers.
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There is no doubt this novel is well written. Unfortunately I've tried to read it a couple of times and can't progress to finish it. This is probably more to do with my personal head space as this is a novel of serious subject matter. I hope to one day revisit it when I am less in need of a comfort read. Apologies to the author and publisher.
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King of Rabbits is the heart breaking story of young Kai, growing up in a mixed race family in a council house in the West country. The story is told from the dual perspectives of 5 year old Kai; and the downward descent he faces at 15. He lives with his drug addicted parents, sisters and the wonderful Nanna Sheila, who will do anything to keep Kai happy. 

Kai is such a perfect character. We see the world through his eyes, delighting in his innocence as a young child and then desperately wanting to protect him from his inner demons as he grows. He idolises his father, a thief and drug addict and wants to grow up to be just like him. Kai has such a warmth and gains such joy from watching the local grey rabbits and spending time with his best friend, Saffie and hope that this is going to be enough to allow him to cope with the challenges that he faces.

All the characters are beautifully rendered with both their positive traits and flaws, I really felt as though I shared their barbecues and parties. I felt this book dealt with a range of incredibly hard themes in a way that neither glorified nor patronised. Neblett knows her characters and their world and I found it impossible to put down. This is a book I would highly recommend. I feel Kai, Saffie and the Silver moon will stay with me for a long time.

Thank you to Netgalley and Random house for the ARC.
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“Your parents love you but they forget to love you because they drink and do drugs.”

So speaks Nanny Sheila in Karla Neblett’s outstanding debut novel which paints a portrait of family life blighted by poverty, deprivation and addiction. Set in a Middledown rural Somerset and home to five year old Kai and his three sisters Leah,Jade and Crystal, the author gives an honest ,unflinching realistic view of everyday life in a mixed race household where addiction has its stranglehold over parents Jesse and Sherry. 

Writing in the West Country vernacular, this story is told via a dual timeline; Kai at fifteen years of age and Kai as a five/six year old. Both are compelling, one voice filled with despair and one voice full of innocence in a life that still holds promises of love and hope, small pockets of ordinariness in an otherwise often bleak existence. The author’s style of writing and approach to such an emotive topic is overlaid with a dark humour that cannot fail to draw you into the lives of this family. Yes, it may leave you feeling as frustrated at life’s injustices as is Kai but this debut is an absolute must read for anyone wanting an insight into the true power of addiction and the devastating consequences for all those loved ones who have to stand by and witness its destructive nature. 

From the outset when the author introduces us to fifteen year old Kai, there’s an automatic understanding that hearts will be broken by his storyline. The adolescent Kai is a shadow of his younger self, reasons for which will surface as the author switches backwards and forwards in time. The characters that feature in Kai’s life all have a profound impact on this boy in his formative years, the author astutely observing the varying ways in which these individuals shape his thoughts towards his mum and dad. The author shows the positive influences of book loving big sister Leah who tries her best to mother him, Nanny Sheila who provides sanctuary when life at home gets too much and the very best friendship that partner in crime Saffie offers. The more negative influences come via the likes of Denny and the rest of Jesse’s mates, male role models with distinctly dubious morals whose patterns of behaviour mirror those of Kai’s dad. 

At age 15 despite Nanny Sheila and Leah’s best efforts there’s a hopelessness to the way Kai views his life that pulls you up short. However much you wish for this adolescent to break the mould, you cannot help sense he is on a well trodden path to self destruction. His fear for his own future is tangible, steadily becoming trapped in the same cycle as his parents. For Kai there seems to be no way out given the vicious blows he’s already suffered in his short life so there’s a depressing inevitability to the narrative but it’s bleakness isn’t entirely all pervasive. The biggest tragedy of all is one that you can probably guess at very early on in the storyline but nevertheless it still knocks both Kai and the reader for six. 

Despite the tragedy that defines his childhood and the futility of life in general for the older boy, when we first meet 5 year old Kai he still possesses an innocence that is fitting for his age. He dreams of being a runner like Linford Christie,beating his classmate at the monkey bars, building a den in middledown woods near to his beloved wild rabbits and wishing for a bike for his imminent sixth birthday. With best friend Saffie constantly by his side both engrossed in their make believe world in which they’ll fly to their silver moon, his only worries should be if he has enough pocket money to buy some strawberry laces. However even at his tender age Kai is awakening to the realisation that his home life isn’t perhaps as it should be. The sights  and sounds of his childhood, his frustration at the frequent use of the smelly pipes, the smoking and the drinking, his dad’s petty thieving form the basis of his daily life and he’d REALLY like his parents to stop with their harmful and self destructive behaviour. But you can sense the powerlessness of this five year old to prevent the worst from happening. Whilst seeing and hearing things his five year old brain can’t totally comprehend Kai’s family life is slowly robbing him of his innocence. Naturally he idolises his dad, even aspires to become a good enough thief not to get caught when he’s older but Jesse’s periods of absences from the family home and his refusal to change his behaviour is upsetting for little Kai, just as his mum’s absences and constant drinking are. Yet for all their obvious problems, Kai’s family is close knit and I loved being privy to the dynamics between him and his three sisters. There’s also no denying the strength of love Kai’s parents feel for their “chocolate orange” boy but his sanctuary is most definitely outdoors, in his den where he can observe Papa Grey and the rest of the wild rabbits at play whilst contemplating his life in general. 

Kai’s story brings to your attention the plight of others like him in similar situations where the flame of hope is gradually extinguished with every setback and every limited chance on offer to choose an alternative lifestyle and tread a different path. Of course the possibilities do exist as evidenced by Leah but the author undoubtedly proves what a difficult struggle this can be. Even at primary school Kai earns a reputation as a troublemaker but there’s a sensitivity to his character and an inbuilt sense of right and wrong that you hope will stand him in good stead for the future. I finished this novel and fell asleep dreaming of Kai, his red cape and his imaginary utopia that exists upon the silver moon. To say he is an unforgettable character is an understatement. At times this novel is tragically funny, others unbearably sad, moving and poignant but behind every word you can detect sympathy for the circumstances all these characters, good and bad, find themselves in. Whilst not condoning the lifestyle Kai’s parents have adopted, neither is the author  judgemental which enables the reader to occasionally catch glimpses of the parents Jesse and Sherry could be were it not the case their addictions are their first and foremost love. Ultimately this is a storyline in which hope has a sell by date, addiction is firmly in control but there is still beauty to be found amongst tragedy and I urge everyone to read it!! My thanks as always to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read.
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Set in Somerset on a tough council estate.  
The protagonist, Kai, is a young boy who lived a very disturbing and dangerous life.  Kai’s family lived in real poverty and were extremely dysfunctional with addictive parents and children who were given no direction except occasionally from Nanny Sheila.
A lot of the things Kai was exposed to at such an early age were extremely shocking. The adults did not try to shield him from either their addictions or their sexual behaviour.  Most of the time they carried on as if he was not there.
Kai was left much of the time to do what he wanted and constantly missed school.  His best friend was Saffie who he loved despite frequently being unkind to her.  Kai also craves the love of his Dad who is an addict and a rogue.
At the end of the book I was left very wretched and unsettled for this young boy and the life he had but also for all the young people experiencing similar destinies.
The one thing which I found difficult is it took me a while to adjust to the time swapping between the ages of Kai of five and fifteen.. Once I had I found the book a compelling read.
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A lot of the themes in this book remind me of Kit de Waal’s “My Name is Leon”. It captures the voice of a child really well, in the same way as To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a sad but important and thought provoking story and it made me want more. I also think it covers drug use in a very poignant way.
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Kai loves Saffie. And rabbits. Will this be enough to prevail over the chaotic background of poverty and his parents' addiction? 

Set on a council estate in rural Somerset, King of Rabbits is told in dual timeline, and follows Kai as child and teenager. The well-crafted structure drives the story to its riveting conclusion. 

The solace and wonder Kai finds in nature is brought to dreamy life with imagery reminiscent of Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Death of a Naturalist’, and form a bittersweet counterpoint to the protagonist's dire circumstances.

Every character is authentic. Those who let Kai down never become stereotypical villains. Instead, they are weak—succumbing to their addictions when they could be giving Kai the care he so deserves—and they are just as likely to dispense life-building wisdom. Equally, the one adult constant in Kai’s life, Nanny Sheila, has her own foibles. This said, Leah's characterisation initially comes across as a little too idealised.

Neblett’s writing is compelling. She balances tragedy with humour, and demonstrates great insight and compassion. The Somerset vernacular is refreshing to see in print, and a welcome inclusion for this West Country (UK) reviewer.

This is an adult book which I see (if anyone has any sense) being incorporated into school curricula.

A powerful, moving debut.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone.for the ARC.
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