Cressida, known as Cress to her family and friends, is a rabbit with the weight of the world on her young mind. After all, Papa has gone missing; he failed to return from a nightly scavenging trip in search of honey for Cress’ younger brother Kip, who suffers from respiratory problems. Cress’ mama knows she has no choice—she needs to move her family out of their cozy home, far from the danger that took Papa from them. But Cress is upset. What if Papa comes looking for them in their old home and can’t find them?
Mama will not be swayed, and she moves the family far away to the Broken Arms, a decrepit tree divided into apartments. The basement room becomes the family’s new home, and Cress is filled with despair. But soon the Broken Arms’ occupants, including four lively young squirrels, welcome her, and Cress is thrown into one adventure after another—going on a wild raft ride, being shipwrecked, experiencing imprisonment, evading a cantankerous bear and a hungry fox, and more—learning again and again that life is messy and isn’t fair. Even as she tries to cling to the hope that she’ll see Papa again, she thinks despondently, “The world wants to be difficult. That’s what it prefers. That’s what it tends to do.”
Mama understands the burdens Cress carries as she mourns for her missing Papa, and she tries to teach her daughter that she’s not responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world. In a touching scene, Mama uses the moon as a metaphor for the place of sorrow in life: “The moon will grow back. It comes and goes. Just like sorrow. I mean it. Sorrow goes and comes. It waxes and wanes—those are words for how the moon grows and gets full and then diminishes, melts away. Over and over. It always comes back. It’s part of life. You get used to it. You learn you can live through the moonless nights.”
Slowly, Cress accepts her new home. When calamity threatens the Broken Arms and its dwellers, Cress boldly and creatively steps up to defend it and the animals she has come to care about. And even though nothing turns out as she planned, she delights in the outcome.
Illustrator David Litchfield’s superb, glowing illustrations make the warmth and charm of the Broken Arms and its tenants leap off the page, and author Gregory Maguire’s humorous, yet heartrending narrative about a young rabbit coming of age make this book for middle school readers an absolutely delightful reading and visual experience.