Hanna is a force. She is smart, precocious and bursting with imagination. But she is not like other children. It’s not that Hanna can’t talk, she simply won’t.
Suzette is weak. Crohn’s disease and Hanna’s constant hostility are sapping her of every ounce of strength. It’s not that she doesn’t love her daughter. She is beginning to believe she can’t.
Alex is basking in denial. He blames the schools, the nannies, the baby sitters. He even blames Suzette’s ailment for Hanna’s strange and increasingly disturbing behaviour rather than admit his daughter is not an angel.
Then Hanna speaks. And Suzette isn’t even sure the malicious child in front of her is her daughter any more.
Fear, humiliation, frustration, sleepless nights, stand-offs and a hundred other potential agonies; they come with the parental package the moment our little darling is born. And although we never stop being parents, we can justifiably wipe our wrinkled brows and heave a sigh when our little darling trips off to his or her first full-time job. I am no exception. But give me a novel about an evil child and I am in heaven. From the safety of my (empty) nest, I revel in their outrageous behaviour. My pulse accelerates with their mounting deviousness. The more harm they do, the more I want to read. For me, wicked children shove serial killers into the shadows of insignificance.
Hanna is no exception. It is the author’s attention to detail and clear knowledge of the species (if you didn’t know, children do not come from this planet!) that makes Hanna leap off the page, teeth bared, and nails sharpened. Bad Apple is also an excellent study of Crohn’s disease and human nature and that makes Suzette a credible protagonist, and a torn, sick mother.
The story flips between Hanna and Suzette. Both points of view are written in the third person past tense, but we are treated to beautiful passages of introspection, which makes this an intimate read. And the voices of both are utterly convincing. Hanna’s mind-words are mouth-wateringly creative whilst portraying the black and white opinions of a child; it is as if the author has climbed inside a little girl’s head and dug out her deepest, darkest thoughts. Suzette is flawed; sometimes wishy-washy, often angry, but always likeable.
Although the milieu is scant in detail, it is irrelevant. Stage has set her story in Anywhere-Town, but she has made it recognisable by detailing it with atmosphere, whether at the hospital, in the supermarket, house or school.
The author knows how to tease; little bits of backstory, trifling incidents that gradually worsen, violence and a bit of blood, but nothing gratuitous. And as well as the writing being above average, the pacing is heady, unrelenting. This ensemble creates one of those rare books where the reader is torn between needing to know how bad it gets and not wanting the book to end.
This book delivers on quality suspense, atmosphere and is a disturbing insight into the minds of a broken family. Zoje Stage is an author to follow.