Poisoned Apples: poems for you, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann.
Wow! Loved it!
The title tells you right from the get go that this book has some tie to fairy tales and that we can expect some kind of edge. It’s while reading the poems that you realize that the fairy tales are often the ones we tell ourselves or those that society wants us to buy into that the author wants to wrap your head around.
The title lets you know that there will be bitter truths to bite into and maybe to be swallowed – or not.
It also suggests that this will not be a smooth trip into the woods to grandmother’s house but then when was it ever a smooth trip? This slight volume also shows us that it’s not only in the woods that girls can lose their way (see the first poem, The Woods).
The issues here are all about being a young woman and the many conundrums, tribulations, and horrors that can be part of coming of age. Whether girls are dealing with body image, eating disorders, roles, sexuality, school, relationships with friends and boyfriends, the poems tells us of the pain, humour, irony, and bravery that are also be part of these tales.
It’s about power; having it, not having it, losing it, getting it back, and embracing it.
It explores different perspectives of fairy tale characters. Yes, fair maidens are here, Snow White, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood. And Beauty, she’s here too, though with such self- loathing that she recognizes only herself as the Beast. We also get see the unloved Ugly Sister after Cinderella is whisked away by the Prince. We get to know of the terrible pressure that ‘the’ Witch (aka, The Fairest) lives under as she frantically tries to keep pace doing away with all young, beautiful, upcoming challengers (beware Gretel, Bo Peep, Goldilocks in The Assassin).
Black and white photos are interspersed throughout and certainly add to the provocative tone of the poems. Some are outright disturbing while others just make us think a little bit more deeply. Check out Nature Lesson (p.76) with a striking image of water eroded canyon walls, all curves, edges and striated walls that reflects a natural process. The associated poem speaks to girls’ natural beauty that must be covered up so that boys will not be distracted and stray from the path to their peril. Here's a snippet:
that if a hiker strays
off the path, trips, and
winds up crippled,
is it really
the canyon’s fault?
Poisoned Apples is deliciously clever and bitter and well worth biting into.
Highly recommended for high school.
Loved it! (Just saying.)