From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 9 Up—In Bethan, ME, 1987, Maren is pregnant; she claims that she is still a virgin. The story of her daughter, Aslaug, follows. She is raised by her severe mother in isolation. Her homeschooling, which includes multiple languages, religious studies, and herbology, excludes much more than it includes. Then, in 2003, Maren dies, and Aslaug discovers that she has an aunt and cousins nearby and begins living with them. She is simultaneously fascinated and confused by her discoveries of social interactions and how the world functions. Fast paced and suspenseful, Meldrum's novel deftly and subtly maintains tension by judiciously revealing key plot points. Aslaug narrates events from 2003 and 2004, which come back to haunt her in 2007, when she finds herself on trial for the murders of her aunt and cousin. Her story fills in gaps and masterfully manipulates perspective, ingeniously pointing out how everything can change depending on one's point of view. Chapters on the courtroom trial alternate with Aslaug's account, which leads up to the deaths. Deep examination of religion and science and how they intersect pervade the text in an exploratory and informative way. The inclusion of rape and poisoning lends darkness and weight to Aslaug's already intense experience. Filled with herbal imagery and nomenclature, the descriptions, both beautiful and surprising, paired with the expert control of pacing, make for a riveting and mind-opening experience.—Amy J. Chow, New York Public Library
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*Starred Review* Aslaug lives in isolation; the flowers and plants that her mother, Maren, uses to make their lives possible are more real to her than the outside world. Then Maren dies, and Aslaug makes her way to the nearby Maine town, where she finds her aunt Sara and teenage cousins Susanne and Rune. Aslaug hopes they will have a clue to her father’s identity; she learns, as readers already have, that Maren proclaimed Aslaug a virgin birth. Aunt Sara, a charismatic preacher, wants none of this. But Susanne, enthralled with the writings of esoteric religionists and pagans, believes this is a possibility, while Rune is just enthralled with Aslaug herself. Then Aslaug finds herself pregnant, and divine intervention is once more a possibility. Plot summary does little justice to this haunting book, which is as much mysticism as it is story. Meldrum plunges deeply into the nature of reality. She uses language in a particularly arresting way, with the leaves and petals of the plants that are so much a part of Aslaug’s life shimmering over the pages. If all this wasn’t satisfaction enough, Meldrum, a litigator, mixes faith and science with a solid mystery, told in the transcripts of a trial in which Aslaug is the defendant. There is much to ponder in this enthralling achievement from a debut author. Grades 9-12. --Ilene Cooper
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