When I picked up The Poison Apples, by Lily Archer, for R5 at a second-hand bookstore in October 2017, I had absolutely no expectations. The synopsis explains that three girls from entirely different backgrounds are blessed with absolutely wicked stepmothers and somehow they all come together when they’re shipped off to the same upper-class, snazzy boarding school, to form a group called The Poison Apples, “a society of mistreated stepdaughters“. The name of the group plays on the story of Snow White, whose evil stepmother poisoned her with an apple. The symbolism behind the name, as the mastermind, Reena, stated, is:
‘The apple represents our unlucky fates. It represents our stepmothers’ plots to ruin our lives. So we’re reclaiming the apple. It’s ours now. Two can play that game.’
‘What game?’ I asked.
‘The game of…’ she trailed off for a second.
‘The game of power,’ Molly finished for her.
Each chapter of the book alternates between the point of view of the three girls, Alice Bingley-Beckerman, Reena Paruchuri and Molly Miller. Their stories are all quite sad. However, to me, it wasn’t because of the over-the-top stepmothers that they ended up with. In fact, I would consider them slightly manipulative and remarkably insensitive, rather than wicked and evil. The real heartbreak is how each of their fathers failed them, choosing the happiness of their new wives over the well-being of their own children, but that was not focused on at all. Manda, from Goodreads, said it perfectly: “It was very cute. But I feel like it should have focused on what horrible fathers they had instead of how evil the ‘stepmoms’ were.” Perhaps it’s because they’re teenagers who wanted to believe that their fathers could do no wrong, so they needed to blame someone. Who better to blame than the person who replaced their mothers?
Although parts of The Poison Apples are slightly far-fetched, I found this story and the characters to be quite realistic. Divorce rates around the world are astonishingly high and they seem to be in increasing year-by-year. In 2015, 55,6% of divorces in South Africa had children younger than the age of 18. Many, many children have stepparents, and while I consider myself lucky to have stepparents who don’t hate my guts, there are children whose stepparents want nothing more than to get rid of them. This is why I believe it was not a crazy coincidence that Alice, Reena, and Molly ended up in the same boarding school. This book also emphasises the effect that divorce has on young teenagers. The girls appear to be fairly comfortable before the divorce, but for a good chunk of the novel, their senses of self-worth and self-confidence crumble. This was apparent during their first few weeks at boarding school, where each one thought that the other hated them.
The trauma and abandonment that these girls experience may make this novel seem absolutely morbid, but trust me when I say that it is so far from that. Yes, there is a level of heartache (personally, I felt that with Molly’s story) and anger (I felt that with Alice’s father) that one experiences, but this book is actually extremely funny. I can’t tell you how many times I giggled out loud. While I was reading, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about how well this could be adapted into a teen comedy, something like Wild Child or Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen or Sleepover or Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (haha, I’m just naming some of my fave teen flicks now).
I did notice that more than half of the story was about before the formation of The Poison Apples. It was fairly disappointing how the revenge plot was only planned and terribly executed during the last 50 pages of the 302-paged book. While the beginning of the book was amazing, the last few chapters were rushed, which led to an almost pointless ending. If more time was spent refining the second half of the book, it would have been excellent. Unfortunately, as much as I actually enjoyed reading this book, the fact remains that nothing truly happened. However, if we think back to their goal of “reclaiming the apple“, I think that they were slightly successful. Not in the takedown of their stepmothers, but rather in the happiness that was created by building incredible friendships. As with Turtles All the Way Down (read my review here), I blame the misleading synopsis for the disappointing ending.
Overall, I would give this book three stars. I loved the humour, especially Reena’s (an Indian girl) disgust with her blonde-haired-blue-eyed stepmother (a yoga instructor) who waltz’s around in non-traditional saris and changed her typical American name to Shanti Shuri (Sanskrit). Molly’s story was very emotional and I could kind of relate to her “dorky” and “invisible” character. Alice’s feeling of abandonment from her father was also very, very sad and I found her stepmother to be extremely annoying. I don’t think that The Poison Apples is a very well-written novel. It started at a good pace, but it was as if the story and the plot were fast-forwarding near the middle and the end. It is more a story about unlikely friendships than reclaiming the apple.