Madapple by Christina Meldrum.
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers/Random House: NY, 2008.

Christina Meldrum's debut novel is an eye-opening, thought-provoking mystery. Going beyond the mystery, Meldrum delves into questions regarding faith, religion, science, and life. Madapple is outstanding in its depth and uniqueness. It has been published as a young adult book, but is definitely adult level as well.

Unique is certainly the word for it considering the different plot and concepts and the masterful meshing of plant lore with the story. A certain amount of open-mindedness is recommended as a reader. For myself, my first question is: how much was based on actual study-both the biology and the religious theory? My interest is piqued, and I want to learn more.

Madapple has layered and intertwining themes, both complex and unusual. The first is Aslaug's trials. The deaths of her mother, aunt, and cousin are mysteries that feed the suspense until the very end. This is the plot that holds the rest together.

Within the trial situation the reader sees Aslaug's isolation. In the beginning of her life, it seems fairly natural, though different from the surrounding society, and Aslaug starts to become restless in her teens (also normal). After her mother's death the isolation is thrust upon her. Also within the trials, a lack of communication is apparent. Aslaug does not understand normal procedures regarding an accused suspect. It is assumed that she is crazy, and therefore, capable of murder. Even when the facts don't support this belief, little attempt is made to communicate with her to find the truth. I believe this is a reflection of how people respond to each other in daily life. People have limited viewpoints, and most don't look deeper to find a truer picture.

The next theme is the mystery surrounding the births, Aslaug's and Sophia Phalia's. The circumstances of Aslaug's conception are not known. Her mother apparently believed it was a virgin birth (not out of ignorance). She studied ancient languages in order to read texts that would support this view. This theme is closely related to the next-that of religious belief. There are two parts to this: 1)historical religions and the basis of Christianity and 2)the depth of belief or how it is practiced. When Aslaug notices that she is pregnant, her cousin provides a historical perspective. This perspective leads to obsessive behavior by her cousin and aunt, although her aunt already lives this way and changes her focus.

The last one is one the author herself speaks of-a "dichotomy between science and religion." Biology is a great part of Aslaug and her mother's (Maren's) way of life. They gather plants for food, healing, comfort, and spiritual protection. In earlier years, Maren studied religions, but now rejects those beliefs as irrational (as many scientists are encouraged to do). She teaches Aslaug about the natural world, but refers to supernatural elements with disdain. Biology is a science that has been interwoven with religion, including mythology, forever, because it has the most basic (yet miraculous), practical uses. It is more natural (and possibly more meaningful) to teach it with the lore of ages than through strictly scientific fact. During the trials, biology is viewed from a scientific basis. Because Aslaug has knowledge of certain plants, she is automatically suspect. Her explanations are rejected, since they don't fit with this strictly factual view. Aslaug goes to live with her aunt and cousins after her mother's death and is then immersed in a religious environment. Her aunt is a pastor, and her cousin enlists her help studying ancient texts. The story compares the two opposite ways of living and brings them together in Aslaug who is capable of absorbing both ways and also capable of filtering ideas to live a more balanced life.

related-biology, practical uses of plants, religious beliefs and practice, history of Christianity, Christ and early Christians, ancestry, court proceedings, isolation, lack of communication, homeschool RL=YA-adult

Blog Stop Book Tours has scheduled more reviews for Madapple:
June 4 Sharp Words
June 6 The Book Faery Reviews
June 9 Mom Is Just A Nickname
June 13 From the Cheap Seats
June 16 Something She Wrote
June 18 YA Bookmarks
June 23 Maw Books
June 27 Writing From Kiddom

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