All the Bad Apples by Moïra Fowley Doyle
Publication date: 1 August 2019
Genre: Contemporary YA/magical realism
Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is a spoiler-free review.
I absolutely loved Spellbook of the Lost and Found when I read it back in 2017. Ever since then, I’ve been a big fan of Doyle’s fantastic, dream-like writing. All the Bad Apples was a hugely anticipated book for me, and I’m so pleased to say that I loved it even more than I could have hoped.
The day after the funeral all our mourning clothes hung out on the line like sleeping bats. ‘This will be really embarrassing,’ I kept saying to my family, ‘when she shows up at the door in a week or two.’
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.
What I love about Doyle’s writing is the way she uses her atmospheric, beautiful, and dreamy style to wrap larger themes into her stories. Spellbook deals with the assault of one of the friends at the party. All the Bad Apples deals with the treatment of Ireland’s women throughout history. Each section of the family tree explores a different period of time and a different trauma that women suffered. From wealthy landowners taking advantage of their tenants, to wise women providing abortions amid whispers of witchcraft, through the more modern mother and baby homes and the anti-abortion laws that put the lives of women in serious danger, Doyle does not shy away from the most shocking and appalling parts of history that many of us would rather forget ever happened. Although this is not a book for the faint of heart (see content warnings below), it is a fiercely feminist book that harnesses female rage.
Deena is such a fantastic character and a great conduit for this story. I feel that with the way the story is told, Deena could have been a very flat character that is only meant to move the story of her family’s history along. However, she was a well fleshed-out character that had so much agency and power. One of the best parts of the story for me was watching her become comfortable with her sexuality after she accidentally comes out to her sister and religious father at the beginning of the book. The Deena from the beginning of the book is quite different from the Deena at the end of the book.
All the Bad Apples is a scream of rage and feminine fury that so perfectly encompasses the feelings of anger and frustration that so many women are feeling right now. Haunted by the ghosts of Ireland’s past, All the Bad Apples is a book that will linger in your mind long after you turn the last page.
CW: incestuous rape of a minor (off-page), abortion, homophobia, abuse, forced pregnancy
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