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On Sale: May 13, 2008
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-84958-9
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books

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THE SECRETS OF the past meet the shocks of the present.
Aslaug is an unusual young woman. Her mother has brought her up in near isolation, teaching her about plants and nature and language—but not about life. Especially not how she came to have her own life, and who her father might be.

When Aslaug’s mother dies unexpectedly, everything changes. For Aslaug is a suspect in her mother’s death. And the more her story unravels, the more questions unfold. About the nature of Aslaug’s birth. About what she should do next.

About whether divine miracles have truly happened. And whether, when all other explanations are impossible, they might still happen this very day.

Addictive, thought-provoking, and shocking, Madapple is a page-turning exploration of human nature and divine intervention—and of the darkest corners of the human soul.

From the Hardcover edition.



Life Everlasting

Bethan, Maine October 1987

The women resemble schoolgirls with gangly limbs, ruddy cheeks, plaited flaxen hair; they walk holding hands. Yet the older of the two is pregnant; her unborn baby rides high and round. And the younger woman’s left foot scratches a path through the leaves. She seems comfortable with her limp, accustomed to it.

A child darts before them, chasing leaves that swirl at her feet. Her dark hair, tied back in a scant tail, whips behind her. She stumbles, catches herself. “Mor!” she calls out. “Mommy!” Then she points at a bird perched high on a leafless branch, its plump breast berry-like against the low sky.

The older woman hesitates before she recalls the bird’s name. “A robin. The bird is a robin. Soon it will fly south for the winter. It is too cold here in Maine.”

“Men det er ikke koldt. But it is not cold.” The child’s words are malformed; she is not yet three.

“Ikke for Danmark,” the woman says. “Not for Denmark. And certainly not for you, but you are not a robin.”

The robin jerks its head to the side, then back, before it takes flight.

“The robin was looking at you,” the child says to the woman with the limp, not her mother. “He wanted to know your name.”

“I’m Moster Maren, little Sanne. Aunt Maren. Have you already forgotten?”

“Yes!” The child laughs and sprints forward; her laugh is discordant, but the wind carries the sound away, and the woman, Maren, is grateful.

“Sanne reminds me of you when you were small,” the child’s mother says to Maren. “Do you recall what Fader called you? Gnaphalium, remember? That plant known at home as ‘life everlasting.’ You were so full of life.”

Maren stops walking.

“What is it, Maren?”

“Don’t go back to Denmark, Sara. Stay here with me. Please. Your marriage is ending—you know that. And with Moder’s death, there’s little keeping you. And I can help you. We’ll help each other.”

Sara frees her hand from Maren’s grip. “Fader is still in Denmark. And I told you before, I don’t need your help.”

“Yes, Fader,” Maren says. She reaches toward a plant and runs her index finger along a scar on the fleshy rhizome of the plant. “Solomon’s seal. This plant’s name is Solomon’s seal. See, the mark here. It resembles the seal of King Solomon, the Star of David—the symbol Solomon used to cast away demons, summon angels.”

Sara lifts Maren’s hand from the stalk and turns Maren toward her. “Tell me what’s wrong,” Sara says. “This isn’t about me. Why did you ask us to come? You said you were leaving Denmark to start a new life, but now you want to bring your life in Denmark with you here?”

“I want you here. And Sanne. And your new baby,” Maren says.

“But why? What is wrong? Is it something about Fader?”

“Don’t tell Fader.”

“Don’t tell Fader what, Maren?”

“I’m pregnant, too.”

“Mor!” the little girl calls out. “Løb efter mig, Mor!” Sanne runs down the path; trampled leaves cling to her scarf and hair. “Chase after me, Mommy!”

“You are pregnant?” Sara says, but she looks at her daughter and the gray sky and the leaves.

“Don’t be angry with me—” Maren says.

But Sara interrupts. “I didn’t even know you knew about such things.” She is fondling her own hands as her eyes search Sanne’s hands, but Sanne’s hands are a blur. “You’re so young, Maren. Maybe you’re mistaken.”

“I’m a robin.” Sanne’s arms stretch wide. “I can fly!”

“I’m almost sixteen,” Maren says. “I’m not that young.”

“But you’ve been in the States for less than two months. How could this happen in such a short time?”

“I’m four months pregnant,” Maren says. “Three months less than you. I was pregnant before I arrived.”

“Mor,” Sanne says. “I’m flying away. I’m flying south.”

Sara wraps her arms around herself and begins walking again, toward Sanne. She can see Sanne’s hands better now: her fingers splayed, and those two webbed fingers not splayed. And she wonders. And then she says, “Before you arrived? But how can that be? I didn’t even know you had a lover. I’ve been like a mother to you since Moder died. How could you have not told me?”

“I didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know?”

“I didn’t know I was pregnant. I found out the day I asked you to come.”

“But you knew you’d been with someone. You had a lover, Maren. And you didn’t tell me.”

“I’ve flown away, Mor.” Sanne has reached the end of the path. “I’m gone forever.”

“But I didn’t have a lover,” Maren says. “I’ve never had a lover.”

Solomon’s Seal


—Please state your name for the record.


—And your last name?

—I don’t know.

—You don’t know your last name?


—Your mother’s name was Maren Hellig, was it not?


—You are Aslaug Hellig?

—Mother called me Aslaug Datter.

—So your last name is Datter?

—No. I mean, I don’t know. Datter means “daughter” in Danish. I’m not sure it’s my name.

—What was your father’s name?

—I don’t have a father.

—You don’t know who your father is?

—I don’t have a father, other than the one we share.

—You mean God in heaven?

—I never said God is in heaven.

—But you mean God, am I right?


—Well, I’m referring to your biological father. You don’t know who he is?

—I don’t have a biological father.

—Your Honor, the witness is being nonresponsive. She’s being tried here for one count of attempted murder and two counts of murder in the first degree, and she’s playing games—

—Do you have a birth certificate for the witness, Counsel? It seems that document may clarify this matter.

—She has no birth certificate, Your Honor. At least none we’ve found.

From the Hardcover edition.
Christina Meldrum

About Christina Meldrum

Christina Meldrum - Madapple
Christina Meldrum is a former attorney who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Madapple is her first novel.

From the Hardcover edition.
Praise | Awards


Starred Review, Booklist, April 1, 2008:
"There is much to ponder in this enthralling achievement from a debut author."

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2008:
"With this spellbinding debut, Meldrum marks herself as an author to watch."

Review, Vanity Fair, June 2008:
"In debut novelist Christina Meldrum's mesmerizing literary mystery MADAPPLE (Knopf), the worlds of science and faith collide."

Starred Review, Publisher's Weekly, May 26, 2008:
"Audiences will need some intellectual mettle for the densely seeded ideas, but they won't be able to stop reading."

Starred Review, School Library Journal, July 2008:
"[A] riveting and mind-opening experience."

From the Hardcover edition.


WINNER 2008 Booklist Children's Editors' Choice
WINNER 2008 Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Books
WINNER 2008 Amazon Best of the Year So Far
WINNER 2009 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
WINNER ALA Best Books for Young Adults
NOMINEE New Jersey Garden State Teen Book Award
NOMINEE Tennessee Volunteer State Book Award
About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

About the Guide

Aslaug Datter knows nothing of her past. She has lived her entire life in isolation with her inscrutable mother, Maren. Together they gather and study plants, learn various languages and explore many different religions. Aslaug knows more about mythology and ancient worlds than she does about the “outside” world in Bethan, Maine, where she lives.
When Maren dies a strange and sudden death, Aslaug is thrust into a life filled with shocking revelations. She is a suspect in her mother’s death, and the more her story unravels, the more questions unfold: About the nature of Aslaug’s birth. About what she should do next. About whether divine miracles have truly happened. And whether, when all other explanations are impossible, they might still happen this very day.

Madapple is one of the most accomplished books I’ve read in the past few years–and one of the most original. It’s bizarre disturbing and there are no taboos it doesn’t break.
Part mystery, part suspense, part exploder of any religious idea you’ve ever had, this sophisticated YA recounts one 17-year-old girl’s strange and isolated upbringing, and the even more twisted world she encounters after her mother’s death, when she lands with family she never knew existed. Soon she’s sucked into a web of complicated, long-buried family secrets that reveal her past is darker than she’d ever imagined.
Virgin births, poisonous plants, religious fervor, and mysteriousdeaths all play a role in this deeply compelling tale with anunreliable narrator. You won’t be able to put it down until the last, mind-blowing page and you won’t believe this extraordinary book was written by a first-time author.”
–Michelle Frey, Executive Editor, Knopf Books for Young Readers

About the Author

Christina Meldrum earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School. She has worked for the International Commission of Jurists and as a litigator at the law firm of Shearman & Sterling. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her family.

Discussion Guides

1. Maren teaches Aslaug that “science describes the world; it doesn’t explain it.”(p. 16) Describe Aslaug’s world. Discuss how Maren and Aslaug’s lifestyle is especially disturbing to outsiders like Lens Grumset, a neighbor who feels that they may be into witchcraft. How might Aslaug explain her world to outsiders? How is Aslaug unprepared to deal with the outside world that she seeks after her mother dies?

2. Aslaug has a troubling relationship with her mother. At one point, Maren asks Aslaug if she is plotting to fly away. Discuss how living in isolation makes Aslaug more interested in discovering the outside world. Why doesn’t she run away? Trace Aslaug’s search to understand her mother, even after Maren’s death. Describe Aslaug’s reaction to her mother’s death.

3. The details of Aslaug’s birth are mysterious. Why won’t Maren identify Aslaug’s father? Draw a parallel between Hester Prynne, the main character in The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Maren. Why does she hide the book from Aslaug? Debate whether Aslaug, like Pearl in The Scarlet Letter, is a symbol of shame and a punishment for her mother’s sin.

4. Maren teaches Aslaug many languages. Explain the irony in Maren’s belief that “the more languages you learn, the more free you will be in your thinking.” (p. 58) Discuss what she means when she says, “Words oversimplify reality.” (p. 58)

5. Sin, knowledge, and the human condition are themes in The Scarlet Letter. Discuss these themes as they relate to Madapple.

6. Maren claims to be an atheist. Yet, she spends hours studying the Torah, the Kabbalah, the Koran, and the Bible. What is she searching for?

7. Sara and Maren’s fader was a botanist and mythologist, “interested in what he thought was the interweaving of nature and the divine.” (p. 165) Explain his influence on Maren. Sara felt that her fader’s interests were “misguided.” Contrast her beliefs with those of Maren’s. Debate the good and evil in Sara’s chosen life. How might Aslaug’s experiences with two trials and a complicated life on the “outside” affect her religious views? Discuss whether she is likely to find that place where science and religion meet.

8. Trace Aslaug’s search for identity before and after her mother’s death. Explain what Rune means when he says to her, “But your context may become your prison.” (p. 245) At what point does Aslaug miss her mother? What does Aslaug mean when she says that Maren was her “Artemis”? (p. 307)

9. Discuss the structure of the novel. How does the trial keep the reader engaged in Aslaug’s story?

10. Explain the title of the novel.

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