From the Publisher
Starred Review, Booklist, April 1, 2008:
"There is much to ponder in this enthralling achievement from a debut author."
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2008:
"With this spellbinding debut, Meldrum marks herself as an author to watch."
Review, Vanity Fair, June 2008:
"In debut novelist Christina Meldrum's mesmerizing literary mystery MADAPPLE (Knopf), the worlds of science and faith collide."
Starred Review, Publisher's Weekly, May 26, 2008:
"Audiences will need some intellectual mettle for the densely seeded ideas, but they won't be able to stop reading."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, July 2008:
"[A] riveting and mind-opening experience."
Theology is on trial in this extraordinary first novel, which alternates between courtroom transcripts and a first-person account by the heroine, Aslaug, prosecuted for murders allegedly committed when she was 15. Carefully peeling back the facts entered in court, Meldrum lyrically describes Aslaug's isolated upbringing by the solitary Maren, a Danish polymath who educates Aslaug in science and languages-and in the medicinal value of the plants they collect near their Maine home; as Aslaug's story begins, Maren retreats into the hallucinatory powers of jimsonweed, or madapple, and dies without telling Aslaug the identity of her father. Flung into the contemporary world, Aslaug finds Maren's sister, a charismatic preacher, and her children, then hears explosive secrets about her conception, including Maren's claim never to have had a lover. Before long, Aslaug, too, is pregnant, and struggling to piece together her cousins' conflicting views of Maren's research into virgin births and pre-Christian messiahs. The author's timing is impeccable: her courtroom revelations advance the narrative while altering readers' perceptions of events, and Aslaug's ruminations force readers to question all they take in. Audiences will need some intellectual mettle for the densely seeded ideas, but they won't be able to stop reading. Ages 14-up. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
This novel is a fascinating look at belief and the interplay between the rational and the religious. Fifteen-year-old Aslaug has been isolated from family and friends; her only companion has been her mother and after weeks of waning health, her mother dies. Aslaug attempts to bury her in the back yard, which draws the attention of a grumpy old neighbor and the police. Her mother had been self-medicating with plants and herbs, and some of the plants have toxic qualities. They are toxic enough to draw attention, and Aslaug is accused of having poisoned her mother. The novel moves back and forth between Aslaug's trial for murder and the story of her life and experiences. Her life is surreal, a life of innocence disconnected from the realities of our culture. The courtroom is represented by the stark questions and answers of the witnesses and the lawyers, the twisting of words and the interpretations of those who have no understanding of the isolated upbringing of Aslaug. The story of Aslaug's life is one entrenched in charismatic religious belief and incestuous relationships, a full circle replicating her mother's supposed "virgin" pregnancy and her own birth. The juxtaposition of innocence and incest is an eerie, disturbing and thought-provoking exploration of religious belief and pagan superstitions, calling into question what is reality and what might be madness. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
Children's Literature - Gail C. Krause
Aslaug Datter was lost in her mother's world, which she both loved and hated. Her mother's strangeness increased as Aslaug got older, to the point of possible abuse, but Aslaug knew her mother loved her in some strange, odd wayher mother's way. She taught her and educated her in languages, sciences and the arts. It wasn't until Aslaug's mother died that Aslaug thought she had found freedom from her mother's strange prison. But that was not to be. Aslaug found herself in a deeper prison, bound there by her aunt and cousin. Her abuse continued, both emotionally and physically, worse than any psychological prison her mother could have kept her in. Aslaug is accused of murdering her mother as well as her aunt and cousin and, to make matters worse, she finds she is pregnant, yet she knows she has not lain with a man. They say her mother was an impregnated virgin, as well. The study and comparisons of world religions flourishes through this book and the writing style is so original that it keeps the reader's attention throughout the book. A great read. Reviewer: Gail C. Krause
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up- In Bethan, ME, 1987, Maren is pregnant; she claims that she is still a virgin. The story of her daughter, Aslaug, follows. She is raised by her severe mother in isolation. Her homeschooling, which includes multiple languages, religious studies, and herbology, excludes much more than it includes. Then, in 2003, Maren dies, and Aslaug discovers that she has an aunt and cousins nearby and begins living with them. She is simultaneously fascinated and confused by her discoveries of social interactions and how the world functions. Fast paced and suspenseful, Meldrum's novel deftly and subtly maintains tension by judiciously revealing key plot points. Aslaug narrates events from 2003 and 2004, which come back to haunt her in 2007, when she finds herself on trial for the murders of her aunt and cousin. Her story fills in gaps and masterfully manipulates perspective, ingeniously pointing out how everything can change depending on one's point of view. Chapters on the courtroom trial alternate with Aslaug's account, which leads up to the deaths. Deep examination of religion and science and how they intersect pervade the text in an exploratory and informative way. The inclusion of rape and poisoning lends darkness and weight to Aslaug's already intense experience. Filled with herbal imagery and nomenclature, the descriptions, both beautiful and surprising, paired with the expert control of pacing, make for a riveting and mind-opening experience.-Amy J. Chow, New York Public Library
The haunting tale of one exceptionally disturbed family unfolds in this gripping page-turner. Locked away from the world behind heavy drapes in a house with no mirrors, Aslaug Hellig grew up with her intelligent and overbearing mother Maren, who had told her that she was the product of immaculate conception. Though extremely knowledgeable about the local flora and other bookish pursuits, Aslaug is veritably clueless in social situations. When Maren dies suddenly, Aslaug's world shatters. Alone and frightened, she goes to stay with her estranged aunt and cousins until their suspicious demise. As the narrative moves between her trial for murder in the present and the past that led up to it, the Helligs' shocking truth is slowly revealed. Though Aslaug's situation is hardly conventional, the author does a spectacular job of making the unbelievable credible. A markedly intelligent offering mixing lush descriptions of plants, history, science and religion, this should surely spark interest among a wide array of readers. With this spellbinding debut, Meldrum marks herself as an author to watch. (Fiction. YA)
Read an Excerpt
Bethan, Maine October 1987
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.
A child darts before them, chasing leaves that swirl at her feet. Her dark hair, tied back in a scant tail, whips behind her. She stumbles, catches herself. “Mor!” she calls out. “Mommy!” Then she points at a bird perched high on a leafless branch, its plump breast berry-like against the low sky.
The older woman hesitates before she recalls the bird’s name. “A robin. The bird is a robin. Soon it will fly south for the winter. It is too cold here in Maine.”
“Men det er ikke koldt. But it is not cold.” The child’s words are malformed; she is not yet three.
“Ikke for Danmark,” the woman says. “Not for Denmark. And certainly not for you, but you are not a robin.”
The robin jerks its head to the side, then back, before it takes flight.
“The robin was looking at you,” the child says to the woman with the limp, not her mother. “He wanted to know your name.”
“I’m Moster Maren, little Sanne. Aunt Maren. Have you already forgotten?”
“Yes!” The child laughs and sprints forward; her laugh is discordant, but the wind carries the sound away, and the woman, Maren, is grateful.
“Sanne reminds me of you when you were small,” the child’s mother says to Maren. “Do you recall what Fader called you? Gnaphalium, remember? That plant known at home as ‘life everlasting.’ You were so full of life.”
Maren stops walking.
“What is it, Maren?”
“Don’t go back to Denmark, Sara. Stay here with me. Please. Your marriage is ending—you know that. And with Moder’s death, there’s little keeping you. And I can help you. We’ll help each other.”
Sara frees her hand from Maren’s grip. “Fader is still in Denmark. And I told you before, I don’t need your help.”
“Yes, Fader,” Maren says. She reaches toward a plant and runs her index finger along a scar on the fleshy rhizome of the plant. “Solomon’s seal. This plant’s name is Solomon’s seal. See, the mark here. It resembles the seal of King Solomon, the Star of David—the symbol Solomon used to cast away demons, summon angels.”
Sara lifts Maren’s hand from the stalk and turns Maren toward her. “Tell me what’s wrong,” Sara says. “This isn’t about me. Why did you ask us to come? You said you were leaving Denmark to start a new life, but now you want to bring your life in Denmark with you here?”
“I want you here. And Sanne. And your new baby,” Maren says.
“But why? What is wrong? Is it something about Fader?”
“Don’t tell Fader.”
“Don’t tell Fader what, Maren?”
“I’m pregnant, too.”
“Mor!” the little girl calls out. “Løb efter mig, Mor!” Sanne runs down the path; trampled leaves cling to her scarf and hair. “Chase after me, Mommy!”
“You are pregnant?” Sara says, but she looks at her daughter and the gray sky and the leaves.
“Don’t be angry with me—” Maren says.
But Sara interrupts. “I didn’t even know you knew about such things.” She is fondling her own hands as her eyes search Sanne’s hands, but Sanne’s hands are a blur. “You’re so young, Maren. Maybe you’re mistaken.”
“I’m a robin.” Sanne’s arms stretch wide. “I can fly!”
“I’m almost sixteen,” Maren says. “I’m not that young.”
“But you’ve been in the States for less than two months. How could this happen in such a short time?”
“I’m four months pregnant,” Maren says. “Three months less than you. I was pregnant before I arrived.”
“Mor,” Sanne says. “I’m flying away. I’m flying south.”
Sara wraps her arms around herself and begins walking again, toward Sanne. She can see Sanne’s hands better now: her fingers splayed, and those two webbed fingers not splayed. And she wonders. And then she says, “Before you arrived? But how can that be? I didn’t even know you had a lover. I’ve been like a mother to you since Moder died. How could you have not told me?”
“I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t know I was pregnant. I found out the day I asked you to come.”
“But you knew you’d been with someone. You had a lover, Maren. And you didn’t tell me.”
“I’ve flown away, Mor.” Sanne has reached the end of the path. “I’m gone forever.”
“But I didn’t have a lover,” Maren says. “I’ve never had a lover.”
—Please state your name for the record.
—And your last name?
—I don’t know.
—You don’t know your last name?
—Your mother’s name was Maren Hellig, was it not?
—You are Aslaug Hellig?
—Mother called me Aslaug Datter.
—So your last name is Datter?
—No. I mean, I don’t know. Datter means “daughter” in Danish. I’m not sure it’s my name.
—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.
—Your Honor, the witness is being nonresponsive. She’s being tried here for one count of attempted murder and two counts of murder in the first degree, and she’s playing games—
—Do you have a birth certificate for the witness, Counsel? It seems that document may clarify this matter.
—She has no birth certificate, Your Honor. At least none we’ve found.