Author: Laura Ruby
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: October 6, 2009 (HarperTeen)
Synopsis: “If I really wanted to open up, I’d confess that I really am the liar everyone believes I am.”
High-school junior Tola Riley has green hair, a nose ring, an attitude problem, and a fondness for fairy tales, which are a great escape from real life. Everyone thinks she’s crazy; everyone says so. Everyone except Mr. Mymer, her art teacher. He gets her paintings and lets her hang out in the art room during lonely lunch periods.
But then rumors start flying and Tola is suddenly the center of a scandal. The whole town is judging her—even her family. When Mr. Mymer is suspended for what everyone thinks is an affair, she has no choice but to break her silence. Fairy tales won’t help her this time . . . so how can she tell the truth? And, more importantly, will anyone believe her?
3.5/5 stars – A bit dated but still great
After reading and loving Ruby’s earlier YA novel Good Girls, getting my hands on Bad Apple was a must. The woman can write, write well, and write great relationships between girls. That’s exactly what I need more of in YA. I’m sad to say Bad Apple fails to match up to the quality work of Good Girls, but it’s still well-written and has some standout characters–including one whose comments are the best sort of stealth horror.
Thanks to her former best friend lying to the community and saying Tora was having an affair with her art teacher, Tora is going through hell and that is putting it mildly. Sometimes, it’s easy to sympathize with her, how people refuse to listen to her, and the harassment she has to deal with on a daily basis. When she decides she wants to pay Chelsea back for all her harassment by painting a portrait of Chelsea naked on a school wall and coaxing/tricking the school into letting it stay up the entire day? Not so much. That was going a little overboard. It would have been better for her to turn Chelsea’s own trick against her, but it shows exactly what kind of person Tora is too.
When it comes to Tora’s family, it’s all a little over-the-top. There’s the mother who doesn’t listen to her; her depression-struck sister whose quirks, quotable lines, and make her outshine even Tora; her absentee father; her “evil” stepmother; her tech-loving grandpa with his failing health; and her grandma, who hates technology and has a hard time adjusting when her husband starts falling ill. It’s all a lot to throw at readers, but it works somehow. That it doesn’t stick out mid-reading and takes reflection to really see is a good thing.
Tora is well-developed, but there are two supporting characters that outshine her: her sister Tiffany (aka Madge) and her very own harasser, Chelsea Patrick.
Now, Chelsea is very close to being a cartoonish, one-dimensional character. She seems to exist solely to torture Tora and start multiple blogs slandering her. Every time Tora’s mom gets one shut down, she uses her tech knowledge to get it started again. Her own comments are what make her stand out. It’s never fully admitted, but it’s implied she was raped or molested by friends of a man she met over the Internet. Even in the present, she remains friends with them, likely unable to escape. Such comments are equally horrifying and revealing of what her bad decisions and inability to escape in more ways than one have turned her into.
The twists and turns the story takes as we find out exactly what kind of relationship Tora had with Mr. Mymer are wonderfully written and there’s even room to fit a jab or two at people who try to get books banned from school libraries without ever reading them, instead objecting to curse words present or sexual content all out of context. Oh, and adorable romance, of course. It’s not often you find a love interest who genuinely stalks the girls he likes on accident and it works! (Her cat was fooling around in his yard and not knowing whose it was, he followed it. Voila.)
My only other real complaint about Bad Apple is the confusion of the “comment” interludes. Between each chapter, there’s a small interlude in which comments from major characters in the story reveal a little more about others’ opinions on the scandal, about themselves (usually reserved for Chelsea), or about Tora. These seem fine to begin with as they seem to be clipped from newspaper articles or “secretly” recorded or something, but Tora says at the end of the book that they were all comments on a blog. Huh? When presented like that, the sometimes-extended quotes from parties heavily involved in the scandal no longer work.
There’s really nothing left to say other than that Laura Ruby needs to write more YA. I NEED IT.