Synopses & Reviews
THE SECRETS OF the past meet the shocks of the present.
Aslaug is an unusual young woman. Her mother has brought her up in near isolation, teaching her about plants and nature and language—but not about life. Especially not how she came to have her own life, and who her father might be.
When Aslaugs mother dies unexpectedly, everything changes. For Aslaug is a suspect in her mothers death. And the more her story unravels, the more questions unfold. About the nature of Aslaugs birth. About what she should do next.
About whether divine miracles have truly happened. And whether, when all other explanations are impossible, they might still happen this very day.
Addictive, thought-provoking, and shocking, Madapple is a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention—and of the darkest corners of the human soul.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“This book weeps atmosphere. Rich, intense, and sporting a cast of characters you will fall in love with, it draws you into the sordid doings of Rowan’s Glen and doesn’t let you go.” —Hillary Monahan, author of Mary: The Summoning
“Dark, dangerous, and drippingly gothic.” —Gretchen McNeil, author of Ten and the Don’t Get Mad series
Addictive, thought-provoking, and shocking, this debut novel is a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention--and of the darkest corners of the human soul.
Sixteen-year-old Ivy Templeton has lived her entire life in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming commune in the Missouri Ozarks. She and her cousin Heather are closer than sisters and they share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers both her best friend and her community are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.
Stay on the roads. Don’t enter the woods. Never go out at night.
Those are the rules in Rowan’s Glen, a remote farming community in the Missouri Ozarks where Ivy Templeton’s family has lived for centuries. It’s an old-fashioned way of life, full of superstition and traditions passed down from the elders, and sixteen-year-old Ivy loves it. The other kids at school may think the Glen kids are weird, but Ivy doesn’t care; she has her cousin Heather as her best friend. The two girls are closer than sisters, and they share everything with each other—or so Ivy thinks. When Heather goes missing after a May Day celebration, Ivy discovers both her best friend and her beloved hometown are as full of secrets as the woods that surround them.
About the Author
Christina Meldrum is a former attorney who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Madapple is her first novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. Maren teaches Aslaug that “science describes the world; it doesnt explain it.”(p. 16) Describe Aslaugs world. Discuss how Maren and Aslaugs lifestyle is especially disturbing to outsiders like Lens Grumset, a neighbor who feels that they may be into witchcraft. How might Aslaug explain her world to outsiders? How is Aslaug unprepared to deal with the outside world that she seeks after her mother dies?
2. Aslaug has a troubling relationship with her mother. At one point, Maren asks Aslaug if she is plotting to fly away. Discuss how living in isolation makes Aslaug more interested in discovering the outside world. Why doesnt she run away? Trace Aslaugs search to understand her mother, even after Marens death. Describe Aslaugs reaction to her mothers death.
3. The details of Aslaugs birth are mysterious. Why wont Maren identify Aslaugs father? Draw a parallel between Hester Prynne, the main character in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Maren. Why does she hide the book from Aslaug? Debate whether Aslaug, like Pearl in The Scarlet Letter, is a symbol of shame and a punishment for her mothers sin.
4. Maren teaches Aslaug many languages. Explain the irony in Marens belief that “the more languages you learn, the more free you will be in your thinking.” (p. 58) Discuss what she means when she says, “Words oversimplify reality.” (p. 58)
5. Sin, knowledge, and the human condition are themes in The Scarlet Letter. Discuss these themes as they relate to Madapple.
6. Maren claims to be an atheist. Yet, she spends hours studying the Torah, the Kabbalah, the Koran, and the Bible. What is she searching for?
7. Sara and Marens fader was a botanist and mythologist, “interested in what he thought was the interweaving of nature and the divine.” (p. 165) Explain his influence on Maren. Sara felt that her faders interests were “misguided.” Contrast her beliefs with those of Marens. Debate the good and evil in Saras chosen life. How might Aslaugs experiences with two trials and a complicated life on the “outside” affect her religious views? Discuss whether she is likely to find that place where science and religion meet.
8. Trace Aslaugs search for identity before and after her mothers death. Explain what Rune means when he says to her, “But your context may become your prison.” (p. 245) At what point does Aslaug miss her mother? What does Aslaug mean when she says that Maren was her “Artemis”? (p. 307)
9. Discuss the structure of the novel. How does the trial keep the reader engaged in Aslaugs story?
10. Explain the title of the novel.