Review: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan
By Fanni Sütő
Most of the people don’t like poetry or they just don’t care about it. Maybe because they decided at one point that the ordeals of a lovesick nineteenth century bloke held no relevance whatsoever to their own lives. It is hard to tell.
I love poetry. Even though I came from an educational background where in schools you can have only 2 types of interactions with poems; you either need to learn them by heart or learn what a third person (usually a literally scholar – who in most cases was already dead for decades) thought the poet wanted to say. There is little room for the student to form her own opinion or find a personal meaning hidden between the lines. Things are different if, by divine providence or sheer luck, one is given an inspiring and fearless literature like the one I had in the last years of high school or Mr. Gaydon in the novel.
The engagement with poetry and the ways it can help us to get through difficult times is one of the things I really appreciate about Apple and Rain. I found this book through reading another book of Sarah Crossan’s, The weight of water, a novel which is told exclusively in free verse. Both of Crossan’s novels explore the narrative possibilities of poetry. Since it is a short and economic form, one has to concentrate on the really important parts. It also can help to deal with sensitive topics without being verbose or too sentimental. Apple and Rain shows us the process how Apple meets a poem, engages with it and finally writes her own version. It is also interesting how for the first half of the story she also writes a “fake” version of the assignment being too self-conscious to show her real writing.
In this respect (engaging with poetry and creating new poems), the story is quite similar to Sharon Creech’s Love That Dog (2001) where writing poetry helps the protagonist to get over the death of a beloved pet.
The character of Apple is interesting and likeable although sometimes she is too serious for her age. In the novel, we get to know her mostly through her poetry and her relationships to others. Let us look at these defining relationships in the next part and explore the other characters because, in my opinion, the most important aspect of this novel is how the characters change and evolve.
Apple is raised by her grandmother who is caring and good-hearted but tries to bring Apple up in a very strict and traditional way, maybe to try to make up for her “failure” with her own daughter, Annie. Our perception of her changes together with Apple’s; first she sees her grandmother as overprotective and somewhat annoying but by the end Apple comes to appreciate her.
Annie, Apple’s mother walked out of her daughter’s life many years ago, just to suddenly return and bring chaos in her life. She is the main moving force in the novel; the other characters are mostly reacting to her actions. In her absence Apple built a dream world around her and although the new-found mother seems very cool at first, she soon turns out to be more of an irresponsible teenager than a mature woman. In a way, Annie’s behaviour forces Apple to grow up quickly.
One cannot help to notice that Annie is a bit like a mash-up of to Jacqueline Wilson characters: Tracey Beaker’s imagined mother and Marigold, from The Illustrated Mum (199). There even the peculiar names Apple and Ran and Dolphin and Star are similar.
We don’t see much of Apple’s father who seemed to have somewhat withdrew from Apple’s upbringing. He has remarried and at the time of the story they are expecting their first baby with his new wife. The situation of the unexpected arrival of a sibling is later echoed in Apple’s meeting with Rain.
Rain, Apple’s half-sister is first hostile towards her but Apple’s constant care and patience warms them up towards each other. Rain takes her doll everywhere and treats her as a real baby. While Annie is unwilling to tackle the issue, Apple and Del manages to earn Rain’s trust and she steps on the road of letting Jenny go.
A choice I particularly valued was that Apple ends up with the friendly neighbour boy, Del instead of the initial love interest. In Young Adult books it is quite frequent that the sky, knowledgeable girl ends up with the dashingly handsome cool boy which in most cases not too life like. I appreciated that Crossan dared to defy this stereotype.
Although the story was gripping, promoted poetry and dealt with issues such as losing a friend or the arrival of a new sibling, there are a few things which could have been done better. Some characters, most prominently Apple’s mother seem a bit two dimensional, they behave too much as we would expect them to behave. “The irresponsible mother” organises parties and leaves her children alone, while the “distant dad” cares more about his new family than the problems of his daughter. The otherwise likable neighbour boy, Del is too much of the typical home-schooled, perky kid, as we have met this type in David Almond’s Skellig (1998) in the figure of Mina.
Having said that, the characters are still likable, the story is interesting with a good amount of tension and the prominence of poems can buy the heart of poetry fans.
The Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group. Meeting at the University of Roehampton to discuss the shortlists, their reviews were then posted to the shadowing site itself. Over this summer, we are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group was coordinated by NCRCL PhD student, Kay Waddilove.