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.
Huge thanks to Penguin for sending me an early copy of this book!
Trigger warnings for homophobia, abortion, suicide, rape, abuse, forced pregnancy.
‘It’s on every woman in this country. Kept in shame and silence for generations. Kicked out, locked up, taken away. Their children sold in illegal adoptions; their babies buried in unmarked graves. Forced pregnancies and back-street abortions, eleven a day on the boat to England only to come home to rejection and stigma. Insults and prayers and keeping up appearances – and how do you break a curse like that?’
Before picking up All The Bad Apples, I read that it was fuelled by rage. The anger of generations of women permeates its pages, and I was so engrossed by their real life stories that shine through this novel that I couldn’t bear to put it down and read it in one sitting. Truly, on the one hand, this novel is the story of Deena, a queer teen in Ireland struggling to live up to her Catholic family’s expectations. On the other, it’s the untold story of so many Irish women, from decades ago to as recently as the 90’s. This truly is a horror story rooted in history.
The book switches between POV’s and times – from Deena’s chapters in the present, to the chapters of her ancestors in the past, starting in the 1800’s and ending in the 1990’s with her sister Rachel, following their family’s ‘curse’ and the atrocities inflicted upon them simply for being women living in Ireland, and for being different or wrong in some way. In modern day, Deena accidentally comes out to her sister Rachel whilst her father is in earshot, causing her other sister, Mandy, to run away to get to the bottom of the curse that she believes attacks the ‘bad apples’ of their family so she can save Deena. After witnesses see Mandy jump off a cliff, Deena follows clues left across the country to track down her sister, discovering more about the fates of the bad apples who came before her.
I’m honestly not sure how to properly review this book without gushing, spoiling it, or breaking down. I think that whether you go into it with knowledge of the atrocities against women in Ireland, it’s an insightful novel with both a compelling story and important lessons to be learned on how women have been treated so close to home for such a long time.
‘You tell your story and the story of your family. You speak your truth. You shatter the stigma. You hold your head up to the world and speak so that everyone else who was ever like you can recognise themselves. Can see that they aren’t alone. Can see how the past will only keep repeating itself as long as we’re kept powerless by our silence.’
I can’t say enough how much I recommend this book. It’s definitely an emotional experience, but tells so many important stories. As stated at the top of this review, there are multiple trigger warnings for this book, so do be aware of these as you go into reading it.