Bad Apple by Barbara Morgenroth
Release date: September 30, 2010
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Bad Apple begins with a murder, and it drew me in right away. I love a good murder story. But, in Bad Apple, it seemed to take a backseat to the story of Neal and her music, and I'm not too sure how I felt about that. I also love a good music story, so I liked it that music played a huge role in Neal's life, but sometimes, I felt like this story didn't know what it wanted to be. It started with a murder, then dove into Neal's new role as a musician in a band, and occasionally returned to the murder story. It wasn't necessarily bad, but I definitely wish that both stories had an equal role in the book.
When 15 year old Neal Marchal finds her neighbor murdered, she knows who did it. The why is the secret the family has been keeping forever. While Paul took an interest in Neal’s musical education and taught her how to play the fiddle, he took her fatherless stepbrother, Joe, under his wing and all that implies. Joe’s rage has always been barely beneath the surface and years ago, he pushed Neal under a tractor as a warning. The reminder to never reveal the secret is her limp.
While Joe was gone for five years, Neal made music a private and central part of her life. Now she has an opportunity to sing and perform but the threat remains even if Joe is a thousand miles away. Neal finds refuge in the family of the young man who wants her to join his band. It’s like a dream to live with people who love each other. Neal blossoms. She has everything to live for—music, performing and a growing affection for the young man who pulled her to safety.
Then Joe comes home. Neal knows it’s just a matter of time because she told. Joe’s going to finish what he started 8 years ago. But this time Neal vows the outcome will be different.
I loved the voice in the story. I really felt like I was in a small town, where everyone knew everyone else, and everyone knew everyone's business. A big part of that was Neal's voice; she sounded like someone who was from a small town in her narration. Small details, like Aunt Maude having a sort of underground apple cider business because it's illegal for her to make and sell apple cider that hasn't been pasteurized, made the setting authentic.
I liked the relationship Neal had with Truly, but it was also a source of frustration for me. I hated how Neal lacked a certain sense of confidence in her musical abilities, which was a major part of her relationship with Truly. It drove me a little nuts, especially since Truly was always praising her. To an extent, it felt realistic; what teenage girl doesn't have self-esteem issues every now and then, especially if she 1. has a limp because of an old injury and 2. has no experience playing music and singing for/with others? At the same time, though, there were moments that felt like Neal was just feeling sorry for herself, and those were the moments when I wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her, and say, "Quit it already! He likes you!" Truly also frustrated me with how he could never make up his mind about what kind of music the band should play. I wanted him to just pick something and stick with it. In hindsight, though, I'm now wondering if that was supposed to be a metaphor for his feelings for Neal--I'm not convinced that's the case, because he seemed pretty into her, but who knows?
Despite all the things I liked about Bad Apple, there was one thing that really, really bothered me: the dialogue. There were so many times when characters were speaking, but who was saying what was never identified. It made it difficult to follow their conversations, especially when something that was said sounded like it was said by one person, but was actually said by someone else. I had to reread certain parts of the dialogue to make sure I was following it and to make sure I knew who was saying what. Just having "Truly said" and "I said" after every few pieces of dialogue would have made all the difference.
Also, I just have to say this: thank goodness this book is the first in a series. It ended with unresolved issues, and I am dying to know (no pun intended) where music takes Neal and who really murdered Neal's neighbor, Paul, and why.