The Bookshelf, A Teen Review: Madapple by Christina Meldrum

Courtney Bowers

Aslaug is a teenage girl with no identity other than she is the daughter of her mother, Maren. Aslaug and her mother live hidden away in a small, decrepit house in the wilderness of Maine. They never leave, other than to scour the fields in search of medicinal and edible plants for harvesting. Curtains cover every window of their home, keeping the outside world hidden from view. Maren home schools Aslaug, teaching her only that which she believes she should know. This is a curriculum of science and foreign languages. Aslaug knows everything from practical applications to string theory; she can speak anything from English to Latin. She knows how to write in ancient Runes, and she is fascinated by Norse mythology. However, Maren discourages her daughter to practice any faith, be it Christianity or witchcraft. Science, knowledge, those are the answers. But they don’t answer the questions Aslaug longs to know. Who is her father? Where did she come from? Why do they live like this? And why is her mother such a mystery?

Aslaug knows better than to utter a word of her concerns. Her mother is ill, slowly dying of cancer. Aslaug treats Maren’s ailments with all of the natural herbs she can find, but her mother prefers to rely on jimsonweed, a poisonous plant with hallucinogenic properties. One morning, Aslaug finds her mother dead. Did the disease kill her, or was it her own doing? The police come, suspicious of Aslaug’s strange behavior, and she finds herself on the run. But where does a girl who has never left the fields of her backyard go?

Eventually, Aslaug discovers she has family in a small town just a few miles away. She meets her aunt, Sara, a passionate Evangelical preacher; her cousin Sanne, a rebellious teenager; and her cousin Rune, a remarkably kind and loving boy. Aslaug is thrilled to finally have a connection to someone other than her mother, but she is taken aback when she realizes they know more about Maren than she does. Apparently, her mother used to study religion, rather than only science, and she has books filled with notes of her startling discoveries, including many similarities between pagan myths and the supposed truths of Christianity. When Aslaug asks about whom her father was, Sara explains to her that Maren claimed she never had a lover, that it was a virgin birth. Though no one completely believes it, Aslaug is nearly identical to her mother, making them all wonder if Aslaug could be something divine, perhaps the daughter of God? Strange events and revealed family secrets make this theory seem more plausible, but is it true, or is Aslaug just slowly losing her sanity?

Madapple is a peculiar book, one that pushes the boundaries of both faith and science. It’s something like The Da Vinci Code of Young Adult fiction, and some may find its suggestions offensive. However, the book is not an attack on religion, but rather an exploration of it. The author has gone to great lengths to study multiple faiths and mythologies, and readers will put this book down feeling like they just had a lesson in ancient religion, as well as botany and natural science. Meldrum does a fantastic job of interweaving a gripping, imaginative story into such a fact-filled book. Madapple is a perfect blend of science fiction, non-fiction, and psychological fiction. It’s not your typical teen book, and in a world full of silly love stories and vampire tales, it’s a mind-blowing and eyebrow-raising breath of fresh air.

Have you read “Madapple?” Discuss your thoughts on the book below.

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