The Jade Rabbit by Mark Matthews (Not your typical Easter bunny)

As I wrote Friday, Easter will never be the same for me. I grew up believing that Easter was a time of celebration, hope, renewal and joy. It was a time to celebrate Christ’s Resurrection in which He has cleansed us of our sins and we are made new again. Not to mention, my mother always made Easter special for us with Easter baskets, treats and a fun pair of socks. Last year, my mother was ripped unexpectedly from my life four days before Easter, and it is forever changed for me.

While I know people care and are there to support me even a year later, I sometimes feel like no one understands. I feel that I am alone in the hurt that I feel. Mostly I feel like I can’t even adequately describe the pain I feel – in speech or in written words. And, I have not found anyone else who can either.

Several weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to review a novel written by Mark Matthews called The Jade Rabbit. I was hesitant at first; honestly, there are not many fictional books that I enjoy. I always want to insert my opinion or thoughts into that of the author and they rarely match up. I can be critical and judgmental with fictional writing and frankly, if the story doesn’t turn out like I think it should, then I typically don’t like it.

The Jade Rabbit is one of the best fictional books I have read in a long time. And don’t think I say this lightly. My fictional world pretty much began and ended with Wuthering Heights so I don’t routinely read or review fictional novels because it seems to be that nothing will ever impact me like that book did.

This book is about an American-Chinese woman named Janice who was adopted at birth and grew up with her parents in the United States. She works with troubled and neglected youth at a local shelter for runaways and she is a runner attempting to run a sub three-hour marathon. Yes, this book is about a woman who runs and is passionate about it, but it is not solely about running. As a runner myself I can relate to this book on a deeply personal level, but it is not primarily the running part that I was able to relate to. Janice, the main character of the book, is faced with several life challenges and dilemmas that she must resolve while balancing the ethics of her job, home life, personal feelings about abandonment and loss, and training for the race of her life. The characters in this book are beautifully developed and true to the roles they take on in actions, thoughts and speech. It is clear that Mr. Matthews has done his research about Chinese adoption, social services, and running. This book challenges the reader to not only open his/her mind about things he/she may never have thought of, but encourages him/her to develop his/her own thoughts about the relevant topics of today and form opinions that may be different from what he/she originally thought. The book starts out a little slow in terms of action, but it is clear Mr. Matthews takes great care in developing the people, places, situations and plots that make this book unique.

Now, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with me? You see, although she is a fictional character, Janice and I have a lot in common. She is adopted, just like me and she lost her mother, as have I. We are both runners and we both Run to Remember. We both have a deep passion for helping those who are in pain or struggling, especially youth. I think it is captured best in the email I wrote to Mark. I debated whether or not to include in in this post because it is emotional and raw, but I feel compelled to do so in order to attempt to explain what this book has meant to me:

Dear Mark,
I am shaking as I write this. Maybe I should take a minute to compose my thoughts, but I can’t. I have to tell you, right now. I have a feeling you understand how that is. I’m reading your book. I’m not done yet, but almost. I just read the part where it is revealed that Jan’s mother is gone. Literally, my heart fell into my feet and then fell some more. I think I stopped breathing for a minute or two.
This is my life. My heart is beating so fast. The similarities between myself and Janice are unreal. I am adopted and do not know my birth mother. I once worked with at-risk youth. My mother passed away while running. I ran the race of my life in Florida for her. Running is the only way I feel like I can still connect with her sometimes.
Did you know that I love running and hate it all at once in some passion-filled, mixed up, fantastic relationship? I love it because it gave me my mother (her health, happiness, years to her life, time with one another) and I hate it because, in my mind, it took her too. I want to quit, but I can’t. I don’t want to quit, but I do. And on and on and on. It will be one year since her passing in April. Now, I run to remember her.
It is so much like my story.
Not only can I very clearly relate to it above all else, but it is beautifully written and the characters are masterfully developed.
I can’t fully articulate it yet, but with tears in my eyes now, I thank you for this. Somehow, I know I needed to read it.

Yes, I needed to read this book, and I do not believe that it was a coincidence that it was sent to me by Mark when it was. In Mark’s correspondence to me, he articulated that he likes to read something that recognizes pain as well as joy. Let me tell you, I think I needed to read this book because of the pain. After I wrote Mark my initial response, I sat alone on the couch and thought about Janice and how much I could relate to her. I thought about her pain, but tried my hardest not to feel my pain. Then, I let myself feel it. It was intense. I cried and my heart just started aching. A physical, burning, pounding, tightening – a real pain, that I felt. Janice’s story hits home because it is so close to my own.

I sat there just feeling it over and over again. And, in that moment, I realized that I had not entirely let myself feel the pain of my mom’s death. I tried to be strong for everyone. I was heartbroken when my mother died (and still am), but I never really truly let myself grieve to the point of feeling this deep, dark, horrible pain.

I was born in Hannibal, MO and no one really knew a lot about my birth mother. I always knew I was adopted and adoption was always explained to me in a positive light by my parents. We never spoke poorly of my birth mother. It was always said that she did what she did out of love, to give me a better life. Still, from time to time throughout my life, I felt like there was a hole in me. And that is not to say I ever felt unloved or unwanted. There is no doubt in my mind my parents love me!! Two summers ago, my husband and I travelled to Hannibal because I had never been back there, and I wanted to feel close to something that was from my birth. I have never met my birth mother and I don’t know why she made the decisions she did so many years ago, but I don’t have hate or anger towards her. I just feel sadness that I can’t tell her I understand why she did what she did. I wouldn’t have my parents if it weren’t for the decision she made. 

Now that my mother is gone, I know now that things happened exactly how they were supposed to. Janice’s character helped me to realize that I do have both women inside of me. My birth mother because she gave me a life and my mother because she gave me my life. They will live on in me. I needed to understand just how much a part of me my mother is, even though she is gone. And I will keep her memory alive by running. I know she runs with me always.

You can find The Jade Rabbit on Amazon and you can find out more about Mark Matthews on his own blog. Please stop by and read some of his posts. He is a masterful writer. 
Happy Easter, friends. May you be filled with peace and feel renewed on this day. 
Until the next mile marker,