Madapple, by Christina Meldrum
410 pages, Hardcover
Goodness. Where to start with this book. I had no idea what I was getting into when I began, but I'm glad I picked this one up.
Aslag has been raised by her mother in isolation, but her mother has taught her science and botany. When her mother dies unexpectedly, Aslag ventures out into a world she knows little about and finds the family she never knew she had. Insert odd twist here: Her aunt is a preacher for an evangelical/pentecostal church. As Aslag learns of the odd circumstances of her birth, she becomes more and more deeply entwined in the beliefs of her aunt and cousin, which culminates in a dark and twisted ending.
This is definitely one of those books that completely defies the YA label. Yes, the protagonist is a teenager. Yes, there is a love story. But the language of Aslag's story is poetic in a way that few YA books capture. Juxtaposed against the stark testimony of the murder trial, the reader begins to question Aslag's version of events. Through the intricate weaving of Aslag's tale and the trial testimony, Meldrum demonstrates how circumstances are not always what they seem.
The book also poses some interesting questions about Christianity and its pagan roots. I've not fact-checked the book, so I can't speak to its complete correctness, but some of the ideas that Meldrum introduces, although interesting, were not new to me. There could have been less details, but the book also wouldn't have made sense without the background and themes.
Oh, did I mention the incest yet? So, those of you who are offended by the acknowledgement that such things exist (even if it's in fictional form), I would suggest that this isn't a book for you. Madapple broaches difficult and dark subjects, including both incest and rape, through Aslag's unique perspective; however, there is nothing explicit or gratuitous (I'm looking at you The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). This book uses those subjects in a thought-provoking way.
This is a dark novel, but it is not a typical dark teen romance. It tries to do a lot of different things, and mostly succeeds. If you aren't afraid of difficult subjects, this is a must-read.