Title: All the Bad Apples
Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Genre: YA, Magical Realism
Publisher: Penguin UK / Kathy Dawson Books US
Publication date: August 1 / August 27 2019
Hardcover: 352 pages
When Deena’s wild and mysterious sister Mandy disappears – presumed dead – her family are heartbroken. But Mandy has always been troubled. It’s just another bad thing to happen to Deena’s family. Only Deena refuses to believe it’s true.
And then the letters start arriving. Letters from Mandy, claiming that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions – but a curse, handed down through the generations. Mandy has gone in search of the curse’s roots, and now Deena must find her. What they find will heal their family’s rotten past – or rip it apart forever.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): print
Trigger warning: incest, rape, homophobia.
There is something really precious about Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s All the Bad Apples: it’s the flowing narrative, or the beautiful, all-encompassing story it tells. It’s its women, its girls, its outsiders, its “bad apples”. It’s its confrontation of Ireland’s history. All of the above.
Deena Rys chooses the day of her 17th birthday to come out to her sisters. She first tells Rachel, who is in her 30s and is Deena’s de facto mother since their mother died soon after giving birth to Deena but the telling does not go well. Rachel is taken aback, and their absent father – a traditional catholic man – all but disowns her. She thinks talking to her other sister Mandy (Rachel’s wild twin) will be easier and in fact, it kinda is. Mandy is supportive and understanding but she is also now convinced that Deena will be struck by the family curse.
A curse that hits all the Rys girls when they turn 17, when they are effectively rejected by their family. The girls know they’ve been struck when the three banshees come. On that same day, Mandy goes missing and the police presumes her dead. There is even a funeral but Deena refuses to believe her sister is gone. She is convinced she went off to break the curse before it hits Deena Then a letter arrives from Mandy telling them the first part of a story that will take them back generations of Rys women’s stories and Deena follows on her sister’s footsteps, taking to the road herself.
As she goes around the places where her ancestors have lived, she not only learns their stories but she also picks up other girls and friends to tag along. And the banshees follow.
A mix of road trip, treasure hunting and magical horror novel, All the Bad Apples is as harrowing as it is beautiful. Learning the stories about her ancestors, about the ones deemed as “bad apples”, helps Deena realise and fulfil her own story in a beauty, empowering way. The story examines the question of who gets to call someone a bad apple and why, and it unflinchingly stares at Ireland’s darkest histories, including the mendacious present of the Catholic Church in many aspects of life (and the Magdalen sisters have a horrific starring role here, as you may expect). The magical realism aspect of it is minor but effervescent in the background. I am personally not a huge fan of stories with magical realism and thankfully, this side of the story was not overwhelming.
There is a gorgeous juxtaposition as the story this book tells is a history of Ireland and its mistreatment of women, the poor, queer folks and people of colour through the centuries. The realisation that the “curse” is history and history can be written by those who inhabit it (aka the curse can be broken) gives the story an optimist, uplifting slant in spite of its horrors. Without spoiling too much, I think it’s important to mention this: the ending is happy, Deena gets a first kiss with an adorable girl, her best friend (bisexual mixed race Finn) is an enormous part of the story and of her life in supportive ways and the sisters find a way to move forward away from their awful, abusive father.
There is something really precious about Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s All the Bad Apples: everything about it.
Rating: 8 – Excellent