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Every little girl goes through her princess phase, whether she wants to be Snow White or Cinderella, Belle or Ariel. But then we grow up. And life is not a fairy tale.Very truthfully, poetry really isn't my thing, so I'd written off this book. Yeah, sure, I love fairy tales, but poetry? Eh. But, when a pretty little finished copy of this showed up on my doorstep, it screamed at me to give it another look. It's slim and small, and weighs almost nothing. I found myself flipping through the first pages and reading the first lines of the first poem. From then on, I was hooked. The poems of Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty are dark and pointed, with that hint of fairy tale tone and story that got us all so entranced to begin with.
Christine Heppermann's collection of fifty poems puts the ideals of fairy tales right beside the life of the modern teenage girl. With piercing truths reminiscent of Laurie Halse Anderson and Ellen Hopkins, this is a powerful and provocative book for every young woman. E. Lockhart, author of We Were Liars, calls it "a bloody poetic attack on the beauty myth that's caustic, funny, and heartbreaking."
Cruelties come not just from wicked stepmothers, but also from ourselves. There are expectations, pressures, judgment, and criticism. Self-doubt and self-confidence. But there are also friends, and sisters, and a whole hell of a lot of power there for the taking. In fifty poems, Christine Heppermann confronts society head on. Using fairy tale characters and tropes, Poisoned Apples explores how girls are taught to think about themselves, their bodies, and their friends. The poems range from contemporary retellings to first-person accounts set within the original tales, and from deadly funny to deadly serious. Complemented throughout with black-and-white photographs from up-and-coming artists, this is a stunning and sophisticated book to be treasured, shared, and paged through again and again.
Christine Heppermann does a wonderful job of combining the darkness of fairy tales (darkness that's often been filtered out by our Disney-fied versions) with the very real struggles of girls today. She touches on just about every issue out there, calling into new light a lot of behaviors that get overlooked. The familiar strains of the fairy tales are there to create a lot of the settings, but she brings to attention nuances that aren't necessarily spoken of in the story yet are nonetheless implied.
A lot of the book's effect comes not only from the words themselves, but from the gorgeous way the entire book is designed. Admittedly, the gorgeous cover did a lot to draw me in, and the haunting photographs all through reinforced the ideas espoused in the poems. As a whole, it's a beautiful package that deserves to be seen in print. (And take special note of the Author's Note! It's especially lovely.)
Poisoned Apples is the kind of book that might come off a heavy-handed to some, because each and every poem is striving toward a similar theme, but the girls who need to read these poems won't think so, and neither did I.
Christine Heppermann is a writer, poet, and critic. Her book of poetry for young adults, Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, will be published by Greenwillow Books in September, 2014. She is a graduate of Hamline University's Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. She lives in New York's Hudson Valley, where there are many apple orchards, which may or may not be enchanted.