Friday, 5 June 2015

Apple and Rain - Carnegie Medal - Review

"A story about sad endings. 
A story about happy beginnings.  
A story to make you realise who is special.”

   Apple and Rain is an utterly absorbing book about thirteen year old Apple, who lives with her grandmother. She has some problems that are typical of a child of her age - a rocky friendship, an annoying neighbour and a crush on an older boy who doesn’t know she exists. But she’s also affected by much deeper issues - her grandmother is extremely overprotective, her relationship with her father is rocky, and her mother abandoned her to run off to America. Apple isn’t even sure if her only memory of her is real. And then comes the thing she always thought she wanted - her mother returns.

   A few chapters into the story, we have a set of familiar ingredients for an angsty-YA novel. Yet already this book is pulling us in deeper and faster than its synopsis might suggest; it is much, much more than the sum of its parts. Partly this is achieved by Sarah Crossan’s writing, which is deceptively, and beautifully, simple. And partly it is due to Apple herself, whose responses to the escalating turmoil of her mother’s return have us cheering for her and fearing for her in equal measure.   

  The cast of supporting characters also increase the depth and impact of this story. Apple’s flighty parents, dependable grandmother, easily-led school friend and unobtainable crush all go way beyond the cliched stock characters that we might initially expect. And there are three other supporting characters who quickly became my favourites. Del, Apple’s quirky neighbour, is a wonderful revelation. He begins as comic relief, but ends up bringing so much more to the story. Apple’s inspiring English teacher introduces the major theme of the truth and meaning to be found, and revealed, in poetry. Through his nurture of her burgeoning talent, Apple discovers Emily Dickinson’s  “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”, which is at much of the heart of this novel. And finally, the eponymous Rain. The heart wrenching heart-of-the-novel, Rain. But saying any more than that would be a spoiler, so I won’t. 

It is difficult to write about Apple and Rain without making it sound like a book that is purely for teenagers. But it isn’t. I cannot recommend it highly enough, for adults as well as teens and tweens. It is recommended for ages 11+ and Sarah Crossan deals with Apple’s considerable difficulties with sensitivity and a really light touch, so tweens really will find it accessible. There is none of the cynical, controversial content that some YA books seem to revel in, and this, if anything, helps it pack a bigger emotional punch.  
Apple and Rain is a slim book and a fast read. But it’s a story to return to: I read it it one sitting, then, ignoring the pile of other books needing my attention, immediately flipped to the front and started over. It contains universal truths about the different kinds of love, revealed through one of the most interesting young protagonists I’ve read about this year. Sarah Crossan has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal before, and I hope that this time she wins it. Though, if not, her next novel, One, is released in August of this year; you won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve pre-ordered it.

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