- 305 pages
- Dark Academia
- New England Setting
Samantha Mackey is a scholarship student at a prestigious university and it’s clear that she doesn’t fit in. She prefers the company of her own dark imagination, and her new friend and “townie,” Ava, who’s sinister sense of humor keeps her going. It’s clear Samantha’s nothing like the elite clique on campus, a group of rich girls who call each other “Bunny,” and seem to move as one–right?
Yet, when Samantha receives a mysterious invitation to join her fellow students, the bunnies, at their infamous Smut Salon, Samantha finds herself drawn to their front door, and ditching her only friend in the process. As Samantha finds herself plunged deeper and deeper into the world of the bunnies, reality starts to blur and so do her friendships.
In this unique satirical novel about higher education, Mona Awad brings metaphors to life with a spooky, horrific narrative that will have readers thinking about it for ages to come.
Let me start off this review by saying that I was lent this book by a very good friend and it is one of her all-time favorites (if not her top favorite). So, in that regard, I already held this book to pretty high expectations. That being said, with newfound respect for this book, I’m quite sure that it’s impossible to hold Bunny to any expectation, whether positive or otherwise.
Bunny is by far, the strangest, most eclectic, out of this world book that I’ve read this year–and maybe EVER (and I read Tender is The Flesh last year, which albeit is a strong competitor). I decided to go into this book blind, as I thought it was a thriller, and I’m so glad that I did because this book absolutely shattered every possible expectation I could have had for it.
For the sake of this incredibly unique book and trying to understand the content, TODAY’S REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS. To be honest, it’s pretty much impossible to write any kind of review for this book without spoilers since this book is just that out-there.
Bunny essentially follows the narrator, Samantha Mackey, through her time at an elite school. She’s completing an MFA, though we never really learn about what she writes, only that it’s dark and that she often has writer’s block. When Samantha starts at Warren (her school), she is a loner. She has only one friend, Ava, who is a “townie,” and generally dumps on the school in distaste. Samantha’s character has some pretty extreme negative perceptions of both the school, and life in general, pretty early on and her pessimistic character allows her to hold the reader at a distance–which just makes this book all the more wild.
It’s obvious (to me, at least) that Bunny is more than just a surface-level horror story. Not only does Awad write with a beautiful lyrical narrative that should be envied among all novelists, but she also writes with incredible depth. Bunny’s narrative is a commentary on higher education and the unique world that it is–almost as an Other, because it is so separated from reality that it becomes it’s own character.
The book is FILLED chock full of metaphors and symbolism from the bunnies themselves, to the workshops, to the professors. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to start off by talking about the characters. First, let’s talk about the bunnies, as they are the central characters in this book. Now, this might not be true for all readers of this novel, but I found the bunnies to be a personified metaphor for how we start off higher education. Freshman are often lost, scared, and they travel in packs (like the bunnies on campus do). They know little and they focus mostly on survival–which is what most freshman do. It’s an eat or be eaten world and most freshman tend to be the latter, at least until they adjust. The four characters referred to as bunnies are just that–they are learning and growing and adapting, but as one. Why do I say this?
Towards the end of the book, in one of the final scenes, the bunnies are no longer referred to as such, but with their original names. The professor (KareKare) and Samantha choosing to use their chosen names indicates that the bunnies have undergone a transformation that has made them into stronger individuals, though they are clearly absolutely war-torn at the end of the novel from their journey. By identifying as their actual name, instead of “bunny,” they are now autonomous and separate from each other.
Beyond the bunnies, we get to know “The Lion,” who is a professor that Samantha has a connection with. She seems to allude to a previous relationship with The Lion, but she adamantly makes it clear that nothing untoward happened. This relationship was one of the most interesting points in this book for me–It’s clear that Samantha and The Lion bond because of their shared interest in academia and literature, but like most students and professors, that bond immediately ends as Samantha ceases to write and is later effectively thrown off campus as she is graduating and it’s time for her to move on. Students (in general) get extremely close with their professors, as they sometimes share their deepest secrets through their writing, yet many professors then close the door to any further communication the minute they graduate. They might say, “stay in touch!” as you walk out of their office, but emails begin to go unanswered, and before you know it, it’s been ten years and you’re making pleasantries at your alumni reunion.
Then, we of course have Ava’s character. Ava is Samantha’s best friend and she is essential to Samantha’s confidence. She often looks to Ava for permission and acceptance, even if Ava’s “personality” isn’t exactly in line with who Samantha really is. Like many young adults, Samantha does what she feels she has to to fit in, and vibing with Ava is certainly one of those things. It’s very obvious from the first chapter that Ava has a certain ethereal glow to her, which came across to me that she was a ghost, or something of the like. It’s not until the end of the book that we learn how close this foreshadowing truly brings us. Though, regardless of Ava’s “real-ness,” Ava is a comfort to Samantha, just like kids have imaginary friends, and it helps her get through the solitude that she clearly struggles with. When Samantha feels strong enough to start combating these feelings, Ava effectively disappears and the plot thickens.
Lastly, we have Max. Max isn’t introduced until later in the novel, as a potential “Draft” gone wrong. While it’s not entirely clear why Samantha’s “bunny” turned out so differently from the rest of the men the group creates, I believe it’s the author’s indication of Samantha’s Otherness that differentiates her from the group. It’s also foreshadowing that Samantha’s outcome is going to be different than the rest of the bunnies and that they will envy her for it, just like they do Max. The bunnies pretty much entirely ignore the fact that Samantha created Max throughout the novel, probably because of how much he embodies Samantha’s ability to create something beautiful, where their “bunnies” are often missing body parts or misshapen–they are always flawed. While Max, too, has flaws, he more closely resembles what the “ideal” is to the bunnies. It became clear to me here that Max is a metaphor for Samantha’s writing and the “draft” men that the bunnies make without Samantha are a metaphor for their failed writing prompts. When the bunnies write about Max at their last workshop (all in different ways), it’s a comment on how writers always end up copying good work, even if they aren’t entirely intending to, and then claim it as their own. I believe this is why Max goes by multiple names, and Samantha’s is the most pet-like staking her claim on ownership of him.
Beyond characters, there are plenty more examples of metaphorical writing in Bunny. So much so, that a “bunny” might be inspired to write an academic paper on it, if they weren’t able to pick up on Awad’s satirical point here. In any case, I absolutely loved the depth to this book and all of the different ways it could be interpreted–This is one of those rare books that you could read a hundred different times and find something new in it each time you read it.
From small literary aspects, like changing the interest in “masturbation” to “pregnant pause” to indicate metaphorical change, to larger aspects like turning bunny Max into a wolf to personify how Samantha’s writing is all-consuming, Bunny is a true literary narrative like no other. Plus, there’s literary mean girls (which actually exist in real life, in case you were wondering), exploding heads, and creatures turning into people. No matter what kind of reader you are, it’s hard to be bored with a book that twists and turns as much as Mona Awad’s Bunny does.
While I’ll admit that Bunny isn’t a book that I’d pick up on my own and it’s probably not my favorite from this year, it almost belongs in a category of its own for how eclectic it is. It’s impossible not to admire Awad’s writing style and the careful crafting of Samantha’s narrative. Bunny is certainly a book that readers likely love or hate, and I definitely find myself leaning more to the love side, even if it IS the strangest book I’ve read this year.
If you’d like to read this book for yourself (and I highly recommend you do), you can check it out on Amazon by clicking here.
If you’re not sure what to read next, check out my Book Review page for a culminated list of all of the books I’ve read so far this year.
And, if you’ve already read Bunny, leave me a comment below and let me know what you thought! Did you catch all the literary crumbs Mona Awad left for readers? What was your favorite part of the plot? I’d love to know.
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