THE CIRCUMSTANCES into which each of us are born seem normal until we're given reason to believe they might not be. This fact was exploited to great effect in Emma Donoghue's gripping Room, about a boy who spent his entire life in the storage unit where his mother had been imprisoned since before his birth; now Juan Pablo Villalobos' debut novel Down the Rabbit Hole mines similar territory, albeit with a ripped-from-the-headlines twist. Down the Rabbit Hole is about a young boy who lives in a palace, where he has a personal tutor and an extensive collection of hats. He's rarely allowed to leave the palace, and the reader quickly learns that this lavish, secluded life is the result not of royal heritage, but because his father is a paranoid, wealthy Mexican cocaine baron.
Tochtli loves fancy hats and learning new words, and he hates being a "faggot"—one of the novel's most impressive accomplishments is its distillation of a violent, hyper-masculine ethos down to a kid level. People who cry a lot are faggots, unless you're crying because you're sick, then it's okay. All Tochtli wants is a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus, to round out the collection of lions and tigers that doubles as his father's corpse-disposal service, but as his father's "business" grows increasingly precarious, Tochtli is ever more privy to the violence unfolding just outside the palace doors. The book clocks in at under 100 pages, but don't be deceived by Down the Rabbit Hole's slight size: It's a disturbing, substantial read.