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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Basajaun by Rosemary Van Deuren

Title: Basajaun
Author: Rosemary Van Deuren
Reviewed Format: Proof Copy
Release Date: January 29, 2009
Pages: 261

Basajaun (pronounced “bah-sah-jahn”--last part rhymes with “shawn”) is a bunny, he’s also Cora’s best friend. Cora’s a young girl being raised in 1906 by her father after her mother died of consumption years before Cora can remember. Their small town is being overrun by rabbits and a town meeting is called to find a resolution. When Wayne--Cora’s father--prepares a speech for his non-lethal proposal, he doesn’t expect to be brushed aside so easily. Unknown to him, the town’s called in a Pastor from Australia with a desire to get rid of the rabbits that crosses into an obsession.

Proselytizing the moral dangers the rabbits represent, he drags a young pregnant teenager with him wherever he goes, as proof positive that sin has heavy consequences. Connecting her out-of-wedlock pregnancy to a rabbit infestation by a thin, religiously-fueled thread, the Pastor’s solution is to kill the rabbits--all of them. What follows is an adventure of mystery, magic, adolescence, and romance. Cora must figure out how to save Basajaun’s friends, reveal the Pastor’s true evil, and help Nellie escape his prison home.

It’s important to read Basajaun for the story. As a first novel, it reads a bit like one with some awkward transitions, characterizations, and confusing, unexplained events. The magic of Van Deuren’s writing is that it’s still pleasing and drives the story forward. It’s easy to become involved in the mystery and suspense of the plot. Van Deuren is an earnest writer and there are passages that rise above the rest, giving us a peek of the seasoned writer she’ll no doubt become. For example, the scene where Cora walks unexpectedly into a moment of privacy between Nellie and Henry is pulled off very tastefully. Hints and allusions serve the mood while reactions explain what could very easily have turned into a detailed, two-dimensional description. This scene was one of my favorites. It had a lot of emotion without being over the top and captured the awkward age of the trio beautifully. Henry also developed a bit more dimension as a character as we find out some of the difficulties he’s faced and his constant struggle to fit in.

Basajaun is at heart a story about freedom and the trials one has to undergo to get it. There’s also a focus on what it means to be happy and how romance fits into happiness. To really get into the spirit of the tale, you have to let yourself believe in the many charming ideas Van Deuren imagines, such as sentient bunnies and marmots, a necklace with transformative abilities, and, among others, the determination of children to save those in need, even if they don’t--or can’t--speak.

I developed a soft spot for Basajaun. When I read the synopsis, I was reminded of another story with sentient animals at the mercy of human hunters: “The Secret of NIMH.” It was one of my favorite movies (I never read the book) growing up. Already interested, I was surprised when the author was generous enough to send me a proof copy. There are some technical errors that were most likely fixed for the final edition, although some elements of the plot were probably left alone. I do wish Cora had an actual reaction when Basajaun started to talk, but can only imagine the explanation lies somewhere in the power of childhood imagination. Who are children to question when animals satisfy a secret desire by actually talking back? A child may accept it as fact without question, but for the sake of the reader, the moment would have felt less awkward and unimportant, if Cora shared our surprise. After all, Basajaun talking is anything but unimportant.

I also wanted a better ending for Henry, the character I found myself liking the most. Cora’s dismissal of him at the end seemed too cruel without including him in the epilogue to sate my curiosity. But this wasn’t Henry’s story. It belongs to Cora and Basajaun.

With time I’m sure Van Deuren will smooth out the rough edges of her talent and continue to write fantastical stories that become reminiscent of little legends. I enjoyed reading Basajaun and a grateful to Rosemary Van Deuren for the opportunity. :)

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