Book Review: The Jade Rabbit by Mark Matthews

At the center of The Jade Rabbit is a girl who runs. Fast. She defines herself – and is defined – by her Chinese heritage, the birth mother she never knew, the sub-3 hour marathon she seeks, and the “ghost” children of Moonlight.

I was sent this book by the author, Mark Matthews, who thought I might like it. I had no idea what it was about before I started reading, but was instantly drawn to the character of Janice, not just because she’s a runner, but because of the psychological, emotional, and, to a degree, spiritual benefit she seeks from running. She deals with her challenging job as director of a shelter for runaway and neglected youth and her own feelings of abandonment through running. For Janice, her marathon training runs strip the issues, baring their bones and enabling her to find solutions…but not always.

The book itself is like a marathon. It’s a little slow to start, holding back, as we’re supposed to run at the start of a 26.2 mile race, and then it picks up as the story builds. Just as you’re becoming intrigued, however, the chapter ends and a new one begins on a completely different track. I was annoyed when this initially happened but then got caught up in the next element of the story…until it happened again. Matthews knows how to build suspense.

Although, the direction that the story appears to be taking from the start turns out to be a mere distraction, as the character disappears from Janice’s grasp and therefore from the story, only to be referred to in later chapters. The character who replaces her comes and goes for a while, and I thought that she, too, might disappear, but Janice is able to keep her close and not lose her, although her fear of abandonment is a constant.

Janice often does her training runs late at night, in downtown Detroit, to and from the center. I’ve never been to Detroit but I imagine this is not a safe place for a woman – or anyone, for that matter – to run, especially at night. I wonder if this was an oversight by Matthews as a male author writing as a female protagonist, or if it were deliberate; her way of showing she has no fear. Janice’s training runs are interwoven with the story of her clients, her husband, and the questions that still remain about her birth mother.

Matthew’s style is choppy, at times messy, adding to the pathos of a story that takes several turns, speeds up, slows down, endures suffering, and, finally, prevails. An evocative read.

About the Author

Mark Matthews is a therapist who has worked in the behavioral health field for nearly 20 years. His first novel, STRAY, is based on experiences working in a treatment center with an animal shelter right next door within barking distance. His second novel, The Jade Rabbit, is the story of a Chinese adoptee who runs marathons to cope with her history of trauma and her struggles to save youth in a Detroit area runaway shelter. The author is an avid runner and has completed 12 marathons, including 5 Detroit Free Press Marathons, the 2010 Boston Marathon, and is training to run the Ann Arbor Marathon and New York City Marathon in 2012. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan, a licensed professional counselor, and lives near Detroit with his wife and 2 daughters. The author and his family have a personal interest in Chinese adoption and donate monthly to the Half The Sky Foundation.

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