All the Bad Apples

All the Bad Apples was written by Moïra Fowley-Doyle and first published in 2019. It is a work of magical realism that follows a teenage girl as she hunts for the truth behind her family’s supposed curse. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it.

Deena Rys knows that her seventeenth birthday is going to go badly when she accidentally comes out to her devout Catholic father. However, she has no idea how bad things are going to get. When she tells her sister, Mandy, about what happened, Mandy panics. She tells Deena that there is a curse that affects all of the bad apples in their family – those that deviate too far from what their father believes to be normal. The following day, Mandy vanishes.

When someone matching Mandy’s description is seen hurling themselves off a cliff, everyone knows that there is no way for her to have survived. However, even as the family lay her to rest, Deena cannot accept this. Strange things have been happening since Mandy’s death, and she is starting to believe that there may be a curse after all. Although her friends and family urge her to move on, Deena realises that she on the right track when she finds the first letter.

Mandy’s letter is the start of a treasure hunt, and Deena knows that she will find her sister alive and well if she follows it to the end. Yet to do so, she must revisit tales of past crimes inflicted on the women in her family. The origins of the curse lie in generations past and those who were silenced by society for being bad apples. If Deena is ever going to find Mandy, she must follow the trail of letters and allow these ghosts to finally be heard…

Before I begin, a word of warning. All the Bad Apples is clearly a novel aimed at older teens as it does contain a number of themes that readers may find upsetting. While it is not the most graphic of novels that I have reviewed, it does depict rape, violence against women, suicide, child abuse, homophobia, sexual language and slut shaming to varying degrees. If you are sensitive to any of these things, you might want to give this novel a miss.

As you can probably imagine, All the Bad Apples is not an easy novel to read. However, I would argue that it is an incredibly important one. The story sets itself up as a whimsical tale – a grieving teenager’s mission to prove that her sister is alive and break a supposed curse – but it is ultimately so much more than that. It is a dive into the dark heart of Ireland’s history, exposing Catholic hypocrisy and a systematic oppression of women that still exists in present day.

The novel explores a world in which people preach good Christian values, but still ostracise supposedly fallen women and condemn their children to a lifetime of shame and abuse. It shows the power of stories and that silencing women enables their abusers. There can be no change if the abuse of women remains behind closed doors – victims need to be able to speak out and learn that they are not alone.

Although the themes of All the Bad Apples may be difficult for some to palate, this is entirely the point. The novel is raw and angry, taking its inspiration from true events to give voice to these unheard victims. It shows the strength of sisterhood and the importance of the family that one makes for themselves – a way to find solidarity in other like-minded individuals even in the face of bigotry. It forces the reader to think, to make personal connections with the characters, and to understand how they have suffered. And, due to this, it really is a story that I think all teenagers should read, regardless of gender.

The story itself is very engaging, with Deena providing a sympathetic narrative voice (while, perhaps, not always being entirely reliable). The plot flows at a nice pace, as Deena and a small group of friends follow Mandy’s trail across Ireland and learn the story of the Rys family curse through her letters. When each letter is found, the perspective flips to third person as Deena tells each character’s story. I personally liked this a lot as it was an effective way to separate the past and present events, especially as reality began to blur.

While All the Bad Apples is grounded in the real world, it is a fine work of magical realism. As Deena’s quest continues, she starts to see echoes of the past including a screaming banshee and a spectral bull that seems to be following her. These spectres add an almost dreamlike quality to the tale, giving it the air of a dark faerie story and it left me very worried as to what Deena would find when the letters ran out.

The ending of the novel is deeply satisfying, finally bring the tale of the Rys family to the present as it reveals the truth about Deena’s direct family. This does a great job of explaining a lot of their earlier actions, showing the reasons why Mandy walked out of the family and how she came to start believing in the curse. While All the Bad Apples is a very dark tale, the finale is filled with hope. It leaves Deena a position where she is surrounded by people who will support her choices as she uses what she has learned to make a change in her school.

In terms of characterisation, All the Bad Apples is very strong. We truly get to know and understand Deena as the story progresses and I found her to be a really sympathetic and realistically flawed protagonist. While the novel never truly explores her sexuality, her journey gives her the strength to embrace it. She finds a way to face her bullies and even discovers her first love. Through her journey and Mandy’s letters, the reader leans a lot about her ancestors and how they faced similar problems in even less accommodating times. This eventually includes the full backstory of her father, explaining (but not justifying) his abusive behaviour.

My only small disappointment was the way in which Deena’s friends are presented. While Ida, Cale and Finn make a diverse little posse, the novel does not give them enough to time shine. While each seem to be interesting characters in their own right (as well as being Deena’s chosen family), the story does not focus on them at all. Ida, in particular, really could have done with a little more time to explore her complex feelings towards Mandy.

Anyhow, I think that I’ve probably said enough. All the Bad Apples is not a happy read, but it is one that I would recommend to everyone. The novel is incredibly powerful and carries an important message that really does need to be heard.

All the Bad Apples can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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