Madapple, by Christina Meldrum
Aslaug grew up in almost total isolation. Her mother homeschooled her, taught her languages, science and botany. If the Department of Education hadn't required Aslaug to take standardized tests in other subjects, her mother wouldn't have bothered with other subjects: literature, poetry, social studies, fine arts.
Aslaug doesn't have a father. It isn't just that he isn't around. From Aslaug's court testimony:
--What was your father's name?
--I don't have a father.
--You don't know who your father is?
--I don't have a father, other than the one we share.
--You mean God in heaven?
--I never said God is in heaven.
--But you mean God, am I right?
--Well, I'm referring to your biological father. You don't know who he is?
--I don't have a biological father.
And why would she be testifying in court? Because she's on trial for one count of attempted murder and two counts of murder in the first degree.
Through the transcripts of the trial and Aslaug's first person narration of what came before, we get Aslaug's story. Madapple is a story not just about a murder trial, but also about family, comparative religion and mythology, science and faith, the past and the future. It's beautifully written and the story isn't quite like anything else I've run into in the YA section. It's not an easy-breezy read—I wouldn't give it to a reluctant reader, for sure—but teens (and adults) who're interested in exploring the subjects I mentioned shouldn't miss this one. I was very happy to see that the author included a bibliography.
That isn't to say that I didn't have issues with the book. One of the issues is my own—Madapple is set in Maine, and the towns mentioned aren't actual towns, but they sound like actual towns (Hartswell rather than Harpswell, Bethan rather than Bethel), and I found that oddly distracting. I also thought that the second half of Aslaug's story was pretty over-the-top. Her voice and the writing both continued to be top-notch, but the plotting itself was a little bit too much for me. And I wondered [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER ALERT] why, during her trial, it was questioned whether or not she'd actually had a baby. Wouldn't they have examined her? But it's certainly possible that I missed something there.
It's a strong, thoughtful book, and one that I hope will inspire people to read more—I know it made me want to at the very least start paying more attention to local flora*, and, if I'm really determined, to start reading more about religion and mythology and science.
*My father would be so proud.