Apples by Richard Milward

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Apples by Richard Milward

Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Milward, barely out of his teens himself, lends a voice of authenticity to this look at Britain's urban youth with its binge-drinking, drug taking and seemingly ubiquitous teen pregnancy. It's vivid, anarchic and truthful, and it will have parents hurtling for the censor button. There's a level of structural hubris going on, but the willingness to engage and the kindly eye make you forgive it the occasional street-lamp-as-narrator blip.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 200 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571232833

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Adam and Eve narrate Apples - see? It's cheeky already and we haven't even started yet - a dazzling yet glum take on urban youth. You've read the headlines, you've seen the shock-horror news footage of teenagers staggering and puking all over Britain's city centres. Well, here they are folks, in all their glory. And you know, they are glorious. It's so easy to forget the dizzy wonderfulness, the arrogance of youth. But of course, it's not all good times. Apples isn't a paean to misunderstood adolescents; it's an honest depiction of urban adolescence. And it feels honest.

Eve is the wild-child. She's beautiful and she knows it. She drinks, she takes drugs, she sleeps with boys. She's just sixteen, but she's been doing it all for ages. She falls in and out with her various friends and her sisters. She loves her mum, who's dying of lung cancer, but it never occurs to her to give up a night out. Such is the self-obsession of youth. Adam is a socially inept, obsessive music freak whose father beats him up if he puts a foot wrong. Adam spends a lot of time dreaming about Eve, who doesn't know he exists, and opening and closing doors a specific number of times to avoid possible, unspecific, disaster.

I loved Apples. There's a poetry in these lives, despite the sad seediness coming too early, that Milward neither romanticises nor judges. Barely out of his teens and still an undergraduate himself, you can feel his appreciation of the wildness, of the arrogance, and of the living for the moment common to most adolescents. Authorial tone is particularly sympathetic to the female characters (he narrates an entirely credible teenage girl) and to the reserved, neurotic Adam. It comes closest to censure when it approaches violence in the yobbish lads, but even then, the book's only real villain gets a sympathetic chance to tell his story for a few pages.

Apples contains all the no-nos - drinking, drugs, underage sex, teen pregnancy, violence, and even infanticide. It's hearbreaking and depressing, but it's also curiously uplifting. You have to admire a writer who can take those tsk-the-youth-of-today news reports and produce a genuine piece of art of both beauty and pain. Occasionally, the narrative structure overreaches itself - we have chapters narrated by street lamp, a butterfly and an unborn baby, and one told by dyslexic - it's written backwards. I'm too long in the tooth for that kind of effort, young Mr Milward, even if I'm not your intended audience! But y'know, even these moments of stylistic hubris fit in with the book and its atmosphere of the here and now, of living for the moment.

If I were an adolesent, I'd read and re-read Apples until it fell apart.

My thanks to the good people at Faber for sending the book.

If they enjoyed Apples, they might also like My Side of the Story by Will Davis.

Booklists.jpg Apples by Richard Milward is in the Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read.
Buy Apples by Richard Milward at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Apples by Richard Milward at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Apples by Richard Milward at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Apples by Richard Milward at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

I have just read it and it is, indeed, excellent. I particularly liked the little touches that made it seem more real - even the cigarette brands were seedy. The only missing thing is an eating disorder or two.

I don't remember girls like that from my own teenage times (though I certainly can remember quite a few similar, let's say events, even if a couple of years down the line from 16), but I worked with girls like that when I was an office slave in Citybank, and it was just dreadful.

What struck me most was, however, how incredibly bored (and boring) they all seemed - I don't mean the poor Adam, perhaps, but the others, especially the girls. There was nothing, nothing at all in their lives apart from dealing with the hormones (boys) and going out and getting pissed/high/stoned/shagged.

It even made me think that possibly the best thing we can do for them pre-adolescence is to implant some kind of interest/passion/obsession even which will be strong enough to provide some focus (any focus at all) apart from the hormones when they get to this terrible age. Something to be said for outdoor games and horse riding. :)


Jill replied:

You might just be on to something there!