Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on May 13th 2008
Genres: young adult
Buy on Amazon
THE SECRETS OF the past meet the shocks of the present.
Aslaug is an unusual young woman. Her mother has brought her up in near isolation, teaching her about plants and nature and language—but not about life. Especially not how she came to have her own life, and who her father might be.
When Aslaug’s mother dies unexpectedly, everything changes. For Aslaug is a suspect in her mother’s death. And the more her story unravels, the more questions unfold. About the nature of Aslaug’s birth. About what she should do next.
About whether divine miracles have truly happened. And whether, when all other explanations are impossible, they might still happen this very day.
Addictive, thought-provoking, and shocking, Madapple is a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention—and of the darkest corners of the human soul.
Forgotten Fridays is a monthly feature here where the three of us get together to read an older book and discuss it. There are sometimes spoilers, but we always try our best to avoid them.
For this Friday, I picked Madapple by Christina Meldrum. Pixie and Kara were not able to finish the book, unfortunately, but Jessie from Ageless Pages Reviews read the book this month, and joined me today as a guest for the discussion post! Thank you, Jessie!
Lyn: So! Madapple! Was it mad enough for you?
Jessie: Mad is a good word for it. I think there’s a lot of madness to be found in Madapple. Both as in “what the hell is going on with this girl and also with her mom” and also the emotion from the main character of Aslaug.
Lyn: I was expecting something a bit crazy from this one, since I have seen a few reviews talking about the level of intensity. And no one was exaggerating. This one was a total trip, and it was different and set up a character who was honestly sheltered and slightly on the lower end of the intelligence scale, which was wonderful. I’m sure that there was a lot working against her, and it does take a toll on young people when they do not get the proper amount of nutrients or medical care.
Jessie: I liked the unusuality of the POV used here. It’s honestly not one seen much in contemporary YA; in fact the whole feel, tone, and voice of this book is just very ~different from the norm. Add in the religious elements, the horticulture, and the unreliable narrator, it adds up to a really memorable experience. I can see why it’s not a book for everyone (there were admittedly parts where my eyes glazed over and I had to reread sections) but I liked that the author took some risks. Some aspects played out better than others, but I can say that Aslaug and Madapple weren’t ever predictable.
Lyn: I like how you pointed out that there was no predictability – I couldn’t stop reading this one because I kept thinking, “What the hell is going to happen now?” And then, the unreliable narrator. Have I ever mentioned before how much I love them? Because I do. I feel like the reader has to flesh out some of the other aspects while trying to decode what is really happening. This was one book where I didn’t have all of the answers, but I was okay with it, because in this story, I think that Aslaug was not the only confused, mislead person.
On the religion, I thought that it was going to be a big turn off for me, but I liked how the author was dissecting and exposing the center of manic religion in her texts. She all but admitted that most popular religions are recycled material, and how people use religion as a weapon, and not a tool. Most people are honestly in it for their own gains, and not for the goodwill of others. It was brilliant how the author was open ended yet very transparent in her own take on the inside world of fanatic religion. I thought it really added that extra tension and insanity to the plot.
Jessie: The religion angle was handled better than I expected but it also was pretty dry and lifeless. I liked that Madapple and its characters explored various angles and influences on Christianity and the effect of religion on people, but those were the sections that dragged the most for me. I found myself way way more invested in the cutaway chapters set during the child. Watching that second storyline develop as your understanding of the main plot continues was a really cool reading experience. It reminded me of The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, and that is a good thing.
I was pretty hands-off about the romance, though. It definitely was my second least favorite part to both the story and to Aslaug’s characterization.
Lyn: Oh, the “romance”. That was really difficult, and I thought that it almost worked. I can see the fresh angle that the author was working: Here we have a girl that was shut away from people her own age, so it was natural that a teenager who develop a strong crush on the first boy that paid her any mind, even though they were related. She used the crutch of “virgin birth” to justify her feelings, and even though she knew deep down that it was wrong, she had never dealt with proper socialization with people of the opposite gender. It was quite easy to exploit Aslaug due to her shut-away life. It creeped me out, but I understood that it could happen, and how everyone was using a lie to hide away from the ugly truth.
However, I lost a lot of, um, artistic respect for the “romance” because the author pushed so hard that it was never rape. If a girl is drugged, even if she shows interest in a guy, it is still rape, and it severely pissed me off that the author just brushed it off. I had to grapple with a lot of anger over this.
Jessie: See, my interpretation of the romance was different but I didn’t like it any better, hahaha. I didn’t think “virgin birth” was a crutch to Aslaug. I think she was so upset and confused, she genuinely believed it was an authentic possibility. I don’t think she had a motive or intentionally wanted to deceive but that her subconscious latched onto the easiest answer; the one her own mother had used herself to shield her own shame and anger and guilt over the circumstances of Aslaug’s conception. That part I didn’t mind so much. What I minded where the other three points you brought up: that Rune was the first man of her own age she had ever met, that they were related/raised together for a time, and that Aslaug could not give consent in the state she was in when the baby was conceived.
Those issues are massive, to me. I cannot support any of the romance for those reasons. It’s icky and gross and the fact that none of it is addressed by the author lowered my rating majorly.
Lyn: I hope I didn’t give the impression that I was condoning the romance, because, yes, it wasn’t there to “ship” characters, but as a prop for the “virgin birth”. But I have to totally agree with you. I would have given this book 5 whole stars if the rape was addressed. Aslaug called the right shot, and she was talked out of it, and when Rune still later denies that it was consensual, and a FREAKING LAW OF COURT DOESN’T ARGUE, then we have a problem. Even if she was not drugged, then I still would have called it rape – this girl had some real issues and could have easily been pushed or convinced that it was okay. The fact that she was drugged and it was never rightfully called “rape” shocked me. I was hoping to read in the last chapter that Rune’s ass was serving time for kidnapping and rape, but it was just glossed over, and I truly believe that a book aimed towards a young female audience needs to take more responsibility with issues of consent and rape.
Jessie: I also thought the finale was a bit cheesy and simple. The declarations of love! The reuniting! The happy ending! Well maybe it was not 100% happy; Aslaug will still have issues and their family is not a healthy one, but it wasn’t exactly fitting for the story that preceded it.
Lyn: That ending upset me as well. You can’t tell me that she was balanced and okay. I don’t like to tell people how to write their stories. But I can say I think in this situation, the child taken by social services and given up for adoption, and Aslaug slowly building a relationship would have been more realistic. I am also fairly certain that a person who went to court to testify that you murdered your mother, fully believing that it was true, would just turn the other cheek and accept the outcome. That isn’t rational or realistic. The ending didn’t fit with the overall darker, grittier tone of the novel. For the love of all things unholy, this girl was tied to a bed, raped, and forced into birthing a child, and then wasn’t even really allowed to be a mother. That isn’t just going to be cured with love or happy thoughts. That is years of therapy right there. That isn’t right to rig the ending for something sappy and light when the rest of the book was cold, cruel and shocking.
Jessie: Final rating? For me: 3 out of 5 stars. The mythology and the storytelling were top notch (and different! Norse!); I also liked the writing and the originality of this book and its off-the-walls plot. Just not enough to completely overcome the issues I otherwise had with Madapple. Meldrum has talent and imagination, that much is clear. I don’t know that I would rec this to every contemporary fan, but those who like darker edges to their YA would probably enjoy it.
Lyn: I think I am going to stick with 4. I loved the Norse mythology, the Danish, and the utter horrifying setting of the novel. But there were some HUGE ISSUES with this book.
Okay, I lied. I think 3.5. The more I think about the ending, the angrier I am becoming.
Next month is Pixie’s pick: Monstrumologist Rick Yancey