Author: Christina Meldrum
Published: May 2008
Genre: Realistic YA, Courtroom Drama, Mystery
Aslaug has spent her entire life isolated from the world. Her mother kept her hidden from the public eye, teaching her about herbs and plants, cultures and languages, mythology and philosophy.
However, circumstances cause Aslaug to seek out her unknown aunt, and, after miraculously finding her, stays with her and her children in their church. For a while, things seem great. But then her long lost family starts to show it's ugly side; what Asluag thinks may seem like the perfect family, may not be so perfect after all...
Today marks the anniversary of the day I first cracked this book open and began my journey into Aslaug's world. Yes, I read this book a year ago. If it were a mediocre book (like Please Ignore Vera Dietz, my last review), I wouldn't be able to review it. I wouldn't even remember the dang thing!
But ohhh....this book....this book....I still remember it, and I still have trouble putting it into words. See, I added this book to my TBR pile just for kicks. ("Oh, look! Pretty cover!") back when I didn't know the golden rule: Pretty cover = suckish book (e.g. Fallen, A Beautiful Dark, Twilight, So Shelly, Marked, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Body Finder, Anna Dressed in Blood, Beautiful Creatures, blah blah blah, etc, etc, etc, need I go on?). Once I discovered this fact, I still had trouble resisting ("Pretty book cover! Must read! Must read!! But...no! Resist the urge, Hannah, resist it!"). But now, I've finally, officially associated bad books with pretty covers, to the point where they don't even appeal to me anymore.
But then, as I've stated, I read this a year ago, before my revelations regarding YA literature. I saw it at the library and plucked it off the shelf, with no expectations whatsoever. Hey, I was just reading it to check it off my to-read list.
Perhaps my nonexistent expectations were part of the reason why my mind was so completely and utterly blown by this book.
Or maybe it's just that awesome.
See, teenager Aslaug has spent her entire life in her mother's house, unable to explore the world and all it's wonders. The only time she leaves is when she goes outside into the field to pick flowers and herbs and plants, to learn about and put to use. Other than that, she lives her life staring out of a blacked out window (I mean that metaphorically and literally; her mother has the windows boarded up). She's incredibly isolated and naive, yet she knows so much. Her mother teachers her about natural herbs, and many different languages (I forgot how many languages Aslaug spoke: 11? 12?).
Aslaug's mother is obviously mentally ill. We're never given an exact reason why, but she's probably had a lifetime struggle with depression and suicidal urges. Eventually she dies (from either cancer or gradual self-poisoning from dangerous herbs, I can't remember), and Aslaug has nothing. She runs away from Child Protective Services in search of a long lost aunt she never knew.
She eventually finds her, and she's a preacher at a church, with two children. She lives with them, and they give her shelter and food (all the things needed to survive, duh).
But then........nahhhhh, I won't go into any more of it. Just know: things turn out disturbing and weird.
Actually, I should also mention that story jumps back and forth between this story and seven years later, when Aslaug is on trial for the double homicide of her aunt and cousin. Dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnn.....interest piqued? I hope so.
So that's the storyline. When I went headfirst into reading it, I expected something typical and stupid. Some epic paranormal romance with flat characters and unoriginal ideas. Blah blah blah...Even some of the books with "pretty covers" that turned out to be not that bad (Unearthly and Wither, for example) were still usual and nothing earth shatteringly original. Or even regularly original.
But, and I have to make this absolutely clear to you: Madapple is like nothing you've ever read in your entire life. Paranormal? No. Romance? None. Ending you expected? DEFINITELY NOT.
One of my favorite things about Madapple is the research. All those things that Asluag's mother taught her? The mythology and fantasy and philosophy and religion and history and language and medicinal herbs and everything? Meldrum most definitely did not skimp on those details. I learned so much from this book, and I feel incredibly satisfied that I walked away from reading this smarter than I was before; I gained something much more than cheap thrills. One of the things I gained was immense respect for the author and what she's done. I can't even imagine all of the research she had to go through to complete her book (a large portion of the book has overtones of religious anti-fundamentalism. Yes, you heard me right. I'll say it again: anti-fundamentalism). An aspiring writer myself, I can only dream of one day writing something as intelligent and informative, yet entertaining and thought-provoking and original, as Madapple.
My initial impression was, "What the falafel did I just read?" It took me a year to digest. A YEAR. Other books occupied my mind for days after reading them; Madapple has been in my head for a year, and I'm only just now starting to consider, "Should I reread it? Should I not? The first time was such a trip, I don't know if I want to go another year comparing every other thing I read to the mind-blowing accomplishment of Madapple."
Hopefully I didn't build it up too much (I probably did...), but you should definitely read it. It's a fantastic, original, thought-provoking work of literature, and is absolutely going up there with all other YA books I consider masterpieces (Speak, The White Darkness, A Step from Heaven, The Messenger, A Swift Pure Cry, Wintergirls.......I think I have a list somewhere....)