Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Book Review: Madapple

Title Madapple
Author Christina Meldrum
Genre YA Science Fiction
Category Dystopic and/or Paranormal Fiction
Rating B-

Summary Aslaug grew up in a tiny house in Maine with her mother who was strict and had unpredictable mood swings (more so as she became ill), but her mother also loved her and created a world with boundaries and horizons. After her mother's death (which may or may not have been due to poisoning by Aslaug), Aslaug goes to find the only people who might have known her father. She finds relatives--an aunt and two cousins--and gets enmeshed in this family that is so different from her upbringing that it makes her head spin, but also fills her voids. After a mysterious (and perhaps miraculous) birth, Aslaug finds herself on trial for another two murders. Where do science and faith intersect?

First Line "The women resemble schoolgirls with gangly limbs, ruddy cheeks, plaited flaxen hair; they walk holding hands. Yet the older of the two is pregnant; her unborn baby rides high and round. And the younger woman's left foot scratches a path through the leaves. She seems comfortable with her limp, accustomed to it."

Review As you can probably tell by the opening lines of this book, this isn't a grab-you-from-page-one thriller, it's much more plodding (like the younger girl's limp). But it's not all bad.

Here's what's good: This story spans about five years and is told in semi-chronological order; the exception being that every other chapter is a transcript of testimony from Aslaug's murder trial. That could come across as confusing, but actually the transcripts from the murder trial set up what you read in the next chronological chapter--they're a teaser, always leaving off with just a wee bit of a cliff-hanger, that keep you reading. This way of narrating was really interesting and kept me engaged more so than just the actual story.

I knew going in (from reading the front flap of the book) that Aslaug was going to be on trial for murder and I wanted to know who she murdered (if so), and why (if so), and how (if so). Meldrum, a lawyer herself by vocation, used the trial really well. If it hadn't been done that way, I probably would have put the book down.

Here's why...

The writing is boring. There is a whole lot of botany imagery that got to be way too much for me (not that I didn't understand it, but to the point that I couldn't give two craps about the metaphors of the plants). I skimmed whenever she started talking about plant descriptions. If your readers are skimming, that means your editor probably didn't have a tight enough hand. This, for me, suffered from the same thing as the book North of Beautiful did, too much motif and not enough pizazz.

Another thing was an unreliable narrator. Now, don't get me wrong, I sometimes enjoy an unreliable narrator--a kid's nice now and again, sometimes a crazy person can be entertaining--because they make you question why you're thinking what you're thinking. They make you work for it, which is something I love in a book, but Aslaug wasn't that kind of an unreliable narrator. She was an inattentive and superficial narrator. She'd grown up in a world where her mother taught her what to think and why, and then, after her mother dies, she just stops thinking about other people. When Aslaug goes to live with her aunt and two cousins (one of which she may or may not have developed a relationship with), there are some really interesting family dynamics going on--to the point that the aunt and one cousin gag and tie Aslaug up every week before church starts so she won't make a stink--but Aslaug never considers their motives. I was trying to consider them, but I wasn't given enough to work with. The female cousin does all the thinking (like Aslaug's mom did), but you get her thoughts filtered through Aslaug's mind. Not much going on there.

I understand that Meldrum wanted to keep Aslaug pretty passive--that was who she was as a character. A sheltered girl who grew up without electricity isn't likely to start "thinking outside the box" once her controlling mother dies. I just think that, if Meldrum had skipped around in POV to some of the more interesting characters, this book could have been far more powerful.


Tonya said...

"A sheltered girl who grew up without electricity isn't likely to start "thinking outside the box" once her controlling mother dies."

I don't know that I agree with that. It seems that a girl who grows up without a electricity and raised by a mother who teaches her to think about the "why" of everything shouldn't stop thinking simpoly because the controlling influence in her life is goine. Of course, I haven't read this (and based on your review I'm not likely to) but I wonder if it would have made more sense for her to be passive only on the outside so as not to attract confrontation...

Heather said...

Good question and I think part of the problem is how I phrased this... I probably need to edit (not probably, definitely).

The problem was that her mom didn't teach her to think about the "why" or how to think about the "why," she told her the "why" of life and made her accept her version of things. Aslaug never thought on her own--before or after mom's death.

Thanks for commenting. I've heard there are better books about this kind of thing (I think that THE CHOSEN ONE, which is getting a lot of play right now, might be a better read.)