Though she was but a sleepy toddler standing at the top of the stairs, Apple remembers vividly the Christmas Eve her mother left without so much as a word good-bye. She is thirteen now, and has been living with her Nana, who is attentive and loving (and perhaps a mite too strict for her taste,) and she has a loyal best friend in Pilar, but she has always been aware of the mom-shaped hole in her life. So, when her mom shows up out of the blue one day, fresh from America as a wanna-be actress, it's like Apple's countless wishes have been answered.
Nana is apprehensive about this new development, and Apple doesn't understand why she can't just be happy that her daughter is back. When her mom, who is hip and cool and everything Apple is not, asks her to move in, she jumps at the idea of catching up on time lost. Imagine her shock when, instead of girl talk and mother-daughter dates, Apple learns that she isn't an only child and that her mom really isn't interested in being, well, a mother. Meanwhile, her relationship with Nana is strained, and her best friend has been adopted by the "cool girl" at school, and that relationship is on the rocks, too. As she and her long-lost sister are put in increasingly sad and dangerous situations, Apple begins to realize that there's a big difference between being a mother and knowing how to mother, and that sometimes, getting what you want doesn't mean you have what you need.
Apple and Rain was such a tender, thought-provoking, heart-rending read. While this is marketed as a Young Adult novel, some tough issues are addressed, namely parental abandonment and, yes, abuse, though not abuse in the physical sense. If there was ever a character I wanted to wrap up in a hug, Apple is it, and her sister, too. I don't want to give too much away in my review, as this book is still new at the time of this review, but Apple's little sister, Rain, is a damaged child, desperate for the love of a mother who passes her strange behavior off as a "phase," similarly to how she seems to approach motherhood in general.
Apple and Rain's mother is the epitome of a selfish human being, who clearly never grew up, and who is content to live out a fantasy life of partying and drinking, instead of raising her two little girls who so desperately need her. Apple has a witty, compelling personality, and goes on to become a stand-out, dynamic character as she grows and learns from her experiences. I could see myself reflected in her, as she struggles to develop a maturity beyond her years, and as she fights for her place, any place, in the world. My admiration for her only grew as she bravely traversed the delicate relationships in her life, especially with the sister she never even knew existed until recently. Rain, sweet Rain, is incredibly perceptive and realizes that her situation is not ideal, but has no clue how to handle it or how to ask for help in a healthy way. Watching the relationship between the two sisters strengthen as they learn to lean on each other was both bittersweet and inspiring.
Despite the bleak circumstances, there are bright spots in the girls' lives, mostly in the form of Nana, who is a bit paranoid but well-meaning, and Del, the eccentric but lovable boy who lives next door to Nana. I must also specifically mention how much I loved Mr. Gaydon, Apple's English teacher who inspires Apple to put her feelings in words. As a lover of poetry and the written word in general, the additional insight into Apple's psyche via her poetry assignments really made this book shine for me. Some reviewers bemoaned this aspect of the plot, saying it was too much like going back in time to their own English classes, but it highlights the saving grace of the written word; how we can use it to express and make sense of our innermost turmoils.
The plot of Apple and Rain is realistic and well-paced, and while the ending does not necessarily wrap up with a nice little bow, it seems rather perfect because of its incompleteness. The story of these characters is not over. They still have a lot to learn and to do. In the end, these characters needed love, to give and to receive, and they were each doing so in their own unique ways, though not always in the best ways. And isn't that how most real families operate? We make mistakes, we hurt each other, and because we love each other, we help each other heal.
I read Apple and Rain over Mother's Day weekend, and while it was a heart-breaking read in many ways, it also caused me to reflect on my relationship with my own mother. I am so incredibly thankful that my mom was my constant, especially when things got rough, especially when I was the cause of them being rough, during my rebellious teenage years. She isn't a "perfect mother"; those creatures don't exist. She's made her share of mistakes, as have I, and yet I am proud to call her one of my dearest and best friends. She is also the one who instilled a love of writing and reading in me, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Apple and Rain is an exceptional read, and one I won't soon forget. I highly recommend this beautiful book for your shelvesand for your heart, dear readers.
Disclaimer: I received an e-ARC of this publication from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.