Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Morris Shortlist: Madapple

Christina Meldrum
2008; Knopf; 978-0-375-85176-6 (hardcover)

Summary: Aslaug didn't kill her mother. She didn't kill her aunt or her cousin, either. Aslaug wasn't born to a virgin. She wasn't a virgin when she gave birth to her own daughter. Yet it's hard for Aslaug to know what is real and not, what is true and not. As she sits in a courtroom, accused of killing her relatives, Aslaug starts from the beginning to reap the truth, the Solomon's seal, from amongst the weeds and lies.

My Humble Thoughts on Why This Book Was Shortlisted for the Morris Award

#1: An impressive use of language.

Christina Meldrum bursts onto the YA lit scene with this atmospheric first novel. With carefully chosen words and finely wrought phrases, Madapple is like a rare, exotic plant in a field of daisies.
"This memory stirs my longing for bloodroot, for the blood of the root, that orange-red sap I've used in secret to dye my belly with the likeness of a spotted touch-me-not, as if somehow that golden flower with its splotches of burnt red could protect me from my mother; from her biting words, the stinging rod; her absence. Touch me not. And yet, I want her touch, and I want to hear her words--words that open small passages into the tunnels of her mind, and often seduce me with wonder. "(pages 16-17)
Long sentences and short, dreamy introspection and fast actions, are all combined. While the pacing is slow, a patient reader is rewarded by the last third of the book, as past and present come closer and closer, and questions begin to have answers revealed.

#2: A collection of intriguing, unknowable characters.

To most of us, the characters in Madapple are all crazy. Aslaug, her mother Maren, her aunt and cousins--they're all a little off. Yet this oddness draws in the reader, compelling you to figure out these people. Is Aslaug more than just a girl? Does her preacher aunt have a God-given gift to save the spirit? Are they really crazy, or do they appear that way because of the intoxicating plants they consume, like the madapple of the title? And through it all, Aslaug is trying to find the same answers as the reader, searching to discover who is her father, who is her mother really, and who or what she is.

#3: Probing into what we see and what we believe.

Questions of nature, science and religion dominate in Madapple. From Sanne's devotion to pre-Christian religions, Rune's disbelief and skepticism, and the preacher's reliance on God and schnapps, Aslaug finds herself unprepared for the questions these people raise in her. Her mother put her faith in nature and science, instructing Aslaug to do the same. Yet Maren still searched for answers in religious writings until her death. And Aslaug, as she becomes more adrift in the world of the Charisma Pentecostal Church, also turns to the books, the writings of prophets and holy ones. By the end of the book, Aslaug has found her true faith, has found the things she can believe in and worship. And they're not found in any book.

Madapple is a book like none other. In tone and language, complexity and characters, this book challenges a reader to think and see. And our eyes are opened and our minds are made aware of the many things that are beyond our comprehension.


Anonymous said...

Very nice review. Personally, at this point in my life, I wasn't enraptured with Madapple but everything you said about it is true. I know my 17-year-old self would have loved this book so I have been recommending it like crazy.

Janssen said...

I'm really struggling to get through this one. . .I just rechecked it out today. Cross your fingers that I'll be able to finish!

melissa said...

Anonymous: Madapple is definitely a book that doesn't appeal to everyone. But I think there's quite a few teens who will eat it up, so good for you on recommending it even though it wasn't your cup of tea!

Janssen: Like I said in my review, it took me a long time to really get into this book. I'm very grateful that I stuck with it, though, because the last third really sucked me in. Plus, it's such a unique book, I wanted to see how it would end. Good luck!

Em said...

I've been eying this one for awhile. Sounds good and intense.