Sarah Moore Fitzgerald isn’t new to the Young Adult universe, with this novel being her second. She came into the limelight with her debut Back to Blackbrick which was published in January of last year. However, in not being a heavy reader of young adult fiction, I was both apprehensive at the experience of reading such a novel and unaware of what to expect from Miss Fitzgerald. But, as the old expression goes, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it and that’s exactly what I decided to do.
Set in Ireland, The Apple Tart of Hope is about the friendship of two new teenagers (or almost-teens), Meg and Oscar. They have been neighbours and best friends since they were the littlest of kids until one day, during a temporary leave for Meg when she is New Zealand, Oscar goes missing, presumably having intentionally jumped over the pier to this death.
The rest of the story is told to us through flashbacks and flash-forwards, enlightening us as to the context, why Megan left, what their relationship was like, and what (or rather, who) caused everything to go so bad that Oscar would potentially attempt to take his own life.
A dose of reality
If you’ve read your John Greens, you would expect a certain sense of naiveté from the average young adult novel but Fitzgerald does not indulge her readers in such trivialities. Despite its shortcomings, the story rings of something that is often times missing from work aimed at younger people: the truth. Her narrative style is both intelligent and mature, providing two alternative first person narrations which engage with the reader’s ability to comprehend, to extrapolate from a wide range of factors which have led up to this tragic event.
What Fitzgerald doesn’t do is treat her readers with any sort of disrespect. Despite my age, I felt challenged by the story that I found unravelling in front of me and this is a great aspect for young readers to be embracing before moving on to more difficult texts, and hopefully, becoming more serious readers.
The power of apple tarts
The thought of processes of both its main characters are well flushed out, though it might not feel that way at first. Oscar is initially presented almost as an ideal child and boy, a teenager who does everything in his power to be selfless: doesn’t disobey his father, is great with his brother who is stuck in a wheelchair, makes the best apple tarts in the universe which have magical abilities to heal whatever problems the eater may have.
However, as the novel progresses, we find out the layers that Fitzgerald has coated the novel in, providing a depth that young readers will enjoy unravelling. The readers soon take on the role of Meg, who had grown up thinking of Oscar as this beacon of perfection, but slowly comes to realise the extent of his issues, and all that he has had to put up with.
My strongest criticism of the novel would be of its employment of Paloma Killealy, the girl who temporarily moves into Meg’s old home during her absence. She is a character stemming directly from an American high school film: fabulously pretty, nefariously shallow and masterfully deceiving. This provides an apt catalyst for the novel, but she ends up being a little too evil, and unlike the rest of the characters, such as the wonderfully eccentric curmudgeon Barney Brittle, is not as well-developed.
The Apple Tart of Hope in the end provides not only great entertainment value, but tugs at our heartstrings. It’s filled with moments of enlightenment and revelation, and occasionally, harsh reality. There are few books that can capture the teenage soul with such optimism and still remain true to the experience at its core but this is definitely one for the list.