Reading Level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 256 pages
Cover: This cover is great. It expresses all the right things to me. I love that instead of red apples, there are green since that is the MC's hair color and I love that since this is about a supposed "forbidden romance" the black apple has a lipstick mark. I'm totally drawn in by this cover!
First Sentence: "Mr. Mymer, my art teacher, is tall and skinny with floppy hair the color of yams and a peculiar affection for "funny" T-shirts: CLUB SANDWICHES, NOT SEALS. YOGA IS FOR POSERS. FULL FRONTAL NERDITY."
The Mini-Review: Jam packed with witty observations, fascinatingly messed up characters and an interesting scandal, Bad Apple is great from its first bite to its last.
The Book Summary:
High-school junior, Tola Riley has green hair, a nose ring, an attitude problem, and a fondness for fairy tales, which are a great escape from real life. Everyone thinks she's crazy; everyone says so. Everyone except Mr. Mymer, her art teacher. He gets her paintings and lets her hang out in the art room during lonely lunch periods.
But then rumors start flying and Tola is suddenly the center of a scandal. The whole town is judging her--even her family. When Mr. Mymer is suspended for what everyone thinks is an affair, she has no choice but to break her silence. Fairy tales won't help her this time...so how can she tell the truth? And, more importantly, will anyone believe her?
Dealing with any subject is difficult but especially one as controversial as a teacher and student relationship. For this reason alone, I was both interested and repulsed by Bad Apple. Then I opened the book and meet a cast of very real and unique characters and a narrator as confused and interesting as she was real. Bad Apple was a treat from page one to the last.
Tola wants someone to understand her. Living with an absentee father whom she takes after, a mentally unstable sister always on the verge of a break down and a mother who doesn't trust her, she feels like an outcast. So when her art teacher encourages her to express herself through painting, she finds an outlet from the loneliness she feels. Tola wants to stand out and in high school that means that she's put herself as the target for ridicule with her green hair and her willingness to experiment. She's learned to distance herself from what everyone says which makes for an interesting character. But through her tough facade, you can really feel how much all of this affects her. So naturally she gravitates towards her teacher. The problem is, though she has a tiny crush, the way most girls do with some authority figure in their youth whom they look up to, and she does try to hold his hand (which he kindly tells her is inappropriate and is willing to leave it at that) nothing every really happened. But no one will believe her. No matter how many times she states it. I loved her as a main character. She had an interesting viewpoint and was witty and charming. Everything a main character should be!
The cast of supporting characters were just as good. Her best friend June is this fun loyal friend whose mother makes her take a crap load of seminars and extra curricular activities to get into a "good college"? so she isn't around much but when she is, she's as bluntly honest as Tola and has this magical cell that calls people on its own. Tiffany (though Tola calls her Madge because she claims Tiffany doesn't suit her) is this straight A student who has a mental break down and is now obsessed with war movies and hyperventilating in a brown paper bag. Then there is the love interest Seven who is witty and charming. They all blend into this great portrait of amazing colors that bring the pages to life.
The plot was instantly interesting. I wanted to know what happened to make people believe she and her teacher were having an affair and why no one would believe her when she said they didn't. It was a terrifying look at how your life becomes forfeit to the people around you when people gossip and also how cyber bullying can affect you. I felt powerless with Tola as the lies kept growing and there was nothing she could do stop them. Ruby did an amazing job of not sugarcoating these issues. No one was completely innocent because life is messy.
What was most impressive was the ambiguity of the story. The ending allows you to interrupt Tola's life whichever why you want to. The author utilizes comments after every chapter that have people that know Tola quote about her. It's really awesome because you get to see things from Tola's point of view and then a quick snippet into the mind of that other character. It's also useful to remind you how different people see the same situations and it develops characters in an entirely new way. An example of the first point is when Tola nicknames her step dad Mr. Doctor. She never calls him by his name but he is in one of the comments after a chapter and we get to read his name and how he sees something. The second point is illustrated the best through Chelsea's character. We find out early on that Chelsea is this awful person and her comments work not only illustrate that point but they also tell you why she is the way she is. It's ingenious!
Libba Bray's quote on the back of this novel is "...Ruby's so-good novel comes out swinging" and it sums this one up perfectly. Tola's a modern day kick butt heroine who uses her brains to get things done. I was enchanted by this novel and if the Wicked Witch held out this apple, I'd definitely pull a Snow White and take a big ol' bite. It's that good!