A lovely, heartwarming story about family, the shouldering of responsibility and coping with disappointment with an incredibly likable and genuine narrator. Sarah Crossan has a bit of a gift when it comes to zoning in on what makes teen girls tick and what aspects of their lives will resound with readers. Here we see how an ordinary teen deals with being ditched by her friend, navigating the teen-romance minefield and how she copes with major changes to her life and the discovery and nurturing of a beautiful talent.
Apple Apostolopoulou has been raised by her overprotective and worrisome Nan since she was small. Her mother walked out on Christmas Eve to pursue her dream of being an actor and a decade later she still hasn't come back. No matter how much Apple longs for her idealised vision of her mum, years go by with not so much as a phone call. Apple's father has remarried and has a new baby on the way, so she feels cast out of his new family. Apple blames her Nan for the loss of her best friend- she's not allowed out on her own, or even to walk home alone, so Pilar has found a new BFF in the class viper Donna- at least Donna isn't smothered and imprisoned by her unreasonable Nan.
Out of the blue, Apple's mother shows up in a flash car and trendy clothes, buying her the makeup and high heels that her Nan's always denied her. She's everything Apple imagined- young, attractive, understanding, cool and she's back in her life. When she offers Apple the home she's dreamed of since childhood, she snaps up the chance to live with her mum, though her Nan is sceptical about her ability to look after children. Mistaking her Nan's concern for jealousy and unreasonable stubbornness, Apple can't see what her Grandma's problem is- she just wants to keep her locked up forever. However, once Apple gets to her new home she discovers a surprise- a secret half-sister, 5 year old Rain, that she had no idea about. It's just the first of many bombshells and cock-ups that Apple is going to have to deal with in her new, chaotic life.
It's a charming and heartfelt story, sometimes funny and sometimes quite tragic, about being let down by the people that you are supposed to be able to depend on. Blinded by her idealistic image of her mother for so long, Apple has to come to terms with the fact that her mum is flaky and irresponsible and incredibly selfish, and she has to not only deal with the disappointment of that, but also with her unfair rejection of her Nan. She rises to her new, albeit unfair challenges admirably- probably due to a very productive brand of stubbornness. Apple matures so much throughout the novel that she's a totally different person by the end- prouder, more resourceful, confident. She begins to realise her place in the world and her relationship to others. Apple realises slowly that her actions have consequences, that people make mistakes and that some people simply don't change. Her confidence grows through her shouldering of responsibility, of nurturing from a new teacher and through her experimentation with poetry and from a new and developing friendship with the new boy in school, the wordy odd-ball Del. Apple ends up happier than she started, though it takes a thoroughly miserable journey to make her realise that. It's who's causing that happiness and misery that comes as a surprise.
There's something of a "careful what you wish for" message about Apple and Rain, mixed in with the inherent complexity of family and stretched relationships. The idea that families love each other even if they don't like each other very much comes through clearly, but Apple learns to accept the differences her mum and grandma have. We never find out what happens ultimately, but as a reader, I hoped they could come to some compromise that meant that Apple and Rain were happy and secure together. It's an incredibly well written coming of age novel about figuring out your role in life and where you belong, as well as discovering what sort of a person you are when you stop trying to be what you imagine people expect. A really involving and emotional read.