Bad Fruit

A Novel

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Pub Date 23 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 16 Aug 2022

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"A compelling debut that fizzes with tension from start to finish, blending the subtle erudition of literary fiction with the drama and suspense of the very best thrillers. Masterful in its evocation of the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, this is a darkly fascinating, tightly plotted narrative from a writer to watch." —Harper’s Bazaar (UK)

Just graduated from high school and waiting to start college at Oxford, Lily lives under the scrutiny of her volatile Singaporean mother, May, and is unable to find kinship with her elusive British father, Charlie. When May suspects that Charlie is having an affair, there’s only one thing that calms May down: a glass of perfectly spoiled orange juice served by Lily, who must always taste it first to make sure it's just right.
As her mother becomes increasingly unhinged, Lily starts to have flashbacks that she knows aren’t her own. Over a sweltering London summer, all semblance of civility and propriety is lost, as Lily begins to unravel the harrowing history that has always cast a shadow on her mother. The horrifying secrets she uncovers will shake her family to its core, culminating in a shattering revelation that will finally set Lily free.
Beautiful and shocking, Bad Fruit is as compulsive as it is thought-provoking, as nuanced as it is explosive. A masterful exploration of mothers and daughters, inherited trauma and the race to break its devastating cycle, Bad Fruit will leave readers breathlessly questioning their own notions of femininity, race and redemption.
"A compelling debut that fizzes with tension from start to finish, blending the subtle erudition of literary fiction with the drama and suspense of the very best thrillers. Masterful in its evocation...

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ISBN 9781662601491
PRICE $27.00 (USD)

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Average rating from 29 members

Featured Reviews

I received an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review

I loved this one. Very fast paced, had me turning pages as I tore through it – I had to see how it would end. The characters were well rounded and the narrative felt believable. Gave me chills. Solid five

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This was a chilling story of family trauma that had me intrigued from start to finish. I enjoyed the fast pace and short chapters, which allowed me to get through the book quickly. This book became increasingly more uncomfortable to read as it went on, due to the dark nature and quickly deteriorating state of Lily's mother. This was terrifically written and I can see it doing incredibly well once it is published! I am looking forward to reading more from this author.

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Thank you to NetGalley for giving me an ARC!

Wow, okay this book was a lot to take it from witnessing the toxic ways of Mama and how much she really controlled everyone and bent everything to fit her way out of pure fear,

Spoilers a head!

What was the most interesting for me was how Lily knew that he mama was in the wrong, was unhinged, did bad things, and yet we see her come to her defense more towards some points of the book and Jules trying to break her sister out from under their mama, but then for Lily to finally be ready to break away, get away and leave all her family behind since she has finally been able to strand up against her mama AND THEN JULES IS LIKE WELL YOU COULD JUST LET IT ALL GO AND USE THIS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE! I was really hoping Lily would be able to escape with her sister and they’d break away from the control, toxic manipulation of their mother together,

I really enjoyed reading this and see the struggles of a young girl wanting to please her mama just so she would love her and keep her happy made me keep reading it in one sitting.

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Thank you Astra Publishing House and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. IYKYK, my reviews are always honest.

Writing: 3.5/5 | Plot: 4/5 | Ending: 5/5

TRIGGER WARNING: rape, self-harm, domestic violence


Lily lives to appease her ruthless, abusive mother. She doesn't try to understand her mother's behaviour, just survive it, but when she starts having flashbacks about her mother's past, she is forced to peel back layers of generational abuse.


DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a thriller. This is a literary novel exploring the nuanced, complex relationships between a family riddled with generational abuse. DO NOT pick this up expecting some whodunit type novel.

OOHHWEEE my therapist is gonna get an earful when I see her next. I don't want to reveal too much about my family life—I mean I'm wearing a ski mask in my profile pic so that should give you an idea of my desire to be incognito—but this particular story was difficile to get through.

IF YOU HAVE A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR MOTHER OR FATHER OR BOTH, CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED. If you don't have the coping mechanisms to deal with being #triggered by family abuse, don't self-harm by forcing yourself to read this. Mental health >>>>>>

I didn't look into the author too much before reading—I just checked to make sure if she was Asian because ain't no way I'm reading a story about an Asian tiger mom on bath salts and her half-asian daughter written by some white chick from North Dakota (more on this later). But, after I finished, I read the author was not only Asian, but a corporate lawyer involved in anti-human trafficking and child abuse. Her expertise shone through. I could tell she understand the many, MANY layers of domestic abuse; the sick Stockholm Syndrome, the bargaining (I'll take it because they'll pay for my school), the guilt,,, she nailed it.

It was important to me the author is Asian because I'm TIREDT of white people only including Asian women to be petite, trophy wives to fat, rich white guys. I loved The Darkest Web—but literally the only POC in the entire book was a shrewd Asian woman mooching off her lawyer husband. NEXT. And since this book got deep with it and the way culture influences family dynamics, understanding that on a genetic level is necessary. Now, I'm not saying all Asian moms are like this, or only Asian moms can be like this—but let's just put it this way, if you know, you know. And Ella King KNOWS.

The writing was just okay—a lil too try hard in some areas, but damn she nailed that plot and the ending. I'm glad it was a positive ending. I don't think I could've taken any more sadness tbh. And I loved how the author included two characters that actually cared and helped. You need people outside of your situation to get you out the other side.

No snark here. Just feels. This book will weigh heavy on my heart for a long time.


Pros: heart-wrenching but on-point depiction of fucked up family dynamics at its best, great depiction of Asian culture and values influencing said dynamics

Cons: writing was a little OD at some points

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This book was sad. It's heartbreaking to know things like this really happen to people. It was dark and heavy but interesting and suspenseful. The kind of book that will stick with you for a while.

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What I thought was going to be a high level look at familial trauma and abuse turned out to be much more heavy than I anticipated. They weren't messing around when they said 'for fans of My Dark Vanessa'. King paints such a full and intense dynamic between Lily, the favorite, as she searches to set out on her own at Oxford, her mother-fearful all are out to tear her down and seeking to gain control anyway she can, her father who swings between innocent bystander and active participant, and her siblings as they struggle to find the balance between advocating for Lily and resolving their own trauma. I am not kidding in the slightest when I say the climax of this one had my shaking.

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Thank you to NetGalley and Astra Publishing House for the review copy.

Bad Fruit is a book that will stick with me. It is an intimate, difficult look into familial abuse and trauma across generations. Lily, our seventeen-year old protagonist, has a complicated relationship with her mother who keeps her under strict surveillance and has extreme moods that only Lily can navigate. Lily slowly begins to remember things, memories that do not belong to her, and through those memories she discovers devastating things about her mother and family.

Throughout most of the book, Lily is surrounded by obstacles and complex feelings that don't allow her to leave. Abuse is rarely as simple as that. King does a phenomenal job writing difficult scenarios and emotions into small chapters that pack a punch, especially as Lily continues to discover things about her mother and her past. Lily's tenacity shines through even the saddest scenes and you just want her to get out and become the person she was meant to be!

While this book is not an easy read, it was an incredibly well-done portrayal of abuse and the complexities that can surround it.

Content Warnings: sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, infidelity, trauma, familial abuse

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WOW. Simply WOW. How can I put into words how much this book affected me? It captivated me, it unsettled me, it chilled me, it made me yearn for a fictional character in a way that I haven’t in a long time. It also admittedly, triggered me a bit, as some of Mae’s abuse/treatment towards Lily was reminiscent of my abuse by a family member. The author explores and peels back the layers of multi generational trauma in such a raw way, unlike anything I’ve read before. I also found the complex relationship between Lily and her siblings very interesting: they have their own traumas with Mae and want to protect Lily, yet they have also left Lily to fend for herself. Lily’s father is another complex character: is he another victim of Mae, or a wiling accomplice?
This book grabbed me right at the start and didn’t let me go until the final page. The author writes in an engaging way, with chapters that made you eagerly anticipate the next turn of the page. I can’t wait to read more of Ella King’s work.

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Bad Fruit is a novel about intergenerational trauma. It asks particularly difficult questions, like how much of a free pass we give someone with complex trauma when it affects their parenting in ways that damage their children? And what we think of those children, if they go on to damage their children? Bad Fruit allows you to examine the role the other parent plays in child abuse and ask what we can expect from them too: "I try to meet his eyes, gauge whether he will step in if this gets out of hand, but it has always been out of hand. He has never stepped in." These are tough questions and Ella King does a very impressive job making a compassionate description of "the relentless line of mothers and daughters hurting and inflicting hurt." What's even better is it is done with an intersectional lens.

The novel is told from the perspective of Lily, an 18-year-old first generation British-Chinese woman and is largely about her relationship with her Chinese Peranakan mother. With two other siblings who have both moved out of home, Lily is having a crisis of identity, both her racial identity as multi-racial "ang moh gui, white devil", and coming of age and deciding where she ends and her mother begins, which is complicated by trauma. Looking different from her mother is problematic for them both: "It doesn't escape me: her whitening her skin while I'm yellowing mine." Their love language is food and culture. Peranakan food "the taste of okak otak, fish cake grilled in banana leaves, the deep spice of bak kut teh, pork rib tea" are the ways they connect, and sour juice (for which the book is named), is the way they rip apart.

If that all sounds depressing—and in places Bad Fruit is a sad and distressing book—it is also directed at solutions, how might a daughter break the cycle of intergenerational trauma. Instead of linear time, it suggests kairos, the Ancient Greek way of mapping moments in time "when the fates change." While I won't tell you if Lily finds a way "to solve the dark clot of a question we dare not utter even to ourselves: If our mother loves us, why does she hurt us?" I will say this Bad Fruit is a book worth reading to find out. With the publisher pointing to My Dark Vanessa as a comparison, I would have to say Bad Fruit is a much better book.

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Thank you NetGalley and Astra for the advanced reader copy.

How do you review a book that immediately made me want to call my therapist and block my own family on social media? Bad Fruit at its core (see what I did there? I'm proud) is about generational trauma. As a person that has been intensive weekly therapy for undoing the damage that my mother has caused, this boom was a whole lot for me to digest. It's beautifully written. Have your therapist on speed dial.

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What a debut!!

In Bad Fruit, we follow 17 year old Lily who lives under the scrutiny of her mother May whose love flies dangerously close to hate. As her mothers behaviour escalates, and she starts to unravel, so do the memories that Lily has kept locked away and she starts to have flashbacks she doesn’t recognise.

First of all I just want to say how well written this was! The author creates such a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere throughout the book that makes you feel like you’re right there with Lily trying to navigate the unpredictability of her mother. This book was so easy to fly through and extremely hard to put down. There’s something about difficult mother-daughter relationships that really interests me and this was an incredible exploration of those bonds full of tension, anxiety and the sense of impending doom.

Right from the beginning we’re immediately thrown into this toxic mother daughter relationship and introduced to the ways Lily’s mother controls and manipulates her including making Lily dye her hair black and wear a different shade of makeup and contacts to make her appear more chinese like her mother, as well as needing a glass of spoilt orange juice every day which Lily is forced to try first to make sure it is just right. Over the course of the book we watch as May gradually becomes more unhinged and family traumas and secrets begin to surface, shedding light on the family’s past.

I also really appreciated how the side characters including Lily’s siblings were fleshed out alongside the main characters and you really got to experience this family’s dynamics and relationships with eachother.

I don’t want to say too much more because like with any good psychological thriller, it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible and experience the twists and turns yourself- but this book and it’s author are both ones to watch!

Memory, inherited trauma, family, abuse, race, toxic relationships and much more are all explored in this book so if you can handle those topics, I’d definitely recommend this!

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The writing, particularly that of the setting, was one of my favorite parts of this book. It is a very intense book, and not always the easiest to read due to the topics it covers, but the twists in it are unexpected and crafted well.

4.5 stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Astra Publishing House, Astra House for the chance to read this book!

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Wow, what a read this was! It wasn't the thriller that I anticipated it being, but nonetheless, it still blew me away. The descriptive writing describing Asian foods was so well done that I could picture and literally almost taste everything the book was describing as I was reading. This book has a lot of trigger warnings, just be aware before you pick it up. It was hard to read at times, but I'm glad I did. It was definitely different than anything I have ever read before.

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I’ve read a lot of thrillers featuring strained relationships between mothers and daughters, but this really is something else.

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Oh man, this was a lot. It's incredibly chilling but so captivating that it's difficult to put down. Family trauma can be difficult to capture in a way that reads as realistic, but King manages it well. This is heavy, but so engrossing that it was basically impossible to put down.

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thank you astra publishing house and netgalley -

i have never read a more visceral book about the volatile relationship between an immigrant parent and their children. i’m not going to lie and say i flew through this book, because in all honesty i had to take days off of reading before picking it back up. Ella King manages to show us how intergenerational/childhood trauma can affect siblings in different ways. King manages to show us the loneliness and the need for control exhibited by Lilly’s mother, May! When her children challenge her, May spit vile words at them calling them worthless. she seeks to destroy them in anyway possible so that they can continue to obey her outrageous demands. she twists their memories, words, and everything in between so much so that her children turn against one another in hopes that one of them will become or remain “mama’s favorite”. we see this more since we are following the last kid, Lilly during the summer before she leaves for Oxford. throughout the hot english summer days she has flashbacks of what appears to be her mother’s childhood and the horrid things that happened to her, with no reason why she’s the one having them. But how can you continue to care for someone who continues to hurt you? At the age of eighteen, Lilly is trying to find the answer to this. She is now fighting for her sense of self and independence, but realizes this will need to progress much faster than she anticipated and will need to figure out who is truly there to help her. fucking heartbreaking and suffocating read! i can’t believe this is a debut novel!!! Go Ella!

tw: rape

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Captivating, intense story about family trauma and abuse. I particularly loved the writing and the cultural background info (especially the cooking). Definitely recommend!

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Literary fiction at its best a very dark novel of familial abuse.A heart stopping page turner that shocked me made me sad but kept me involved from beginning to end. Highly recommend.#netgalley #badfruit

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Where do I begin? I don't think this is a book anyone would describe as a book they "enjoyed". Bad Fruit, is dark, emotional, twisted, and sad. Very "Mommie Dearest" meets "The Act". This story highlights young Lily's difficulties with an emotional. manipulative, abusive mother, May. Delving deep into the subject of generational abuse, Bad Fruit explores the reasons behind abuse, how different people deal with the abuse, as well as science behind why most victims block it out. Lily is her mothers favorite, or is she? One day Lily begins having flashbacks that are so intense they make her sick, but are they hers? Triggered by words and objects, Lily's flashbacks grow more intense, sending her down a difficult road to the answers she so desperately needs. Bad Fruit was difficult to read but even harder to put down. Major trigger warnings! This will be a difficult read for most. However, there is light in the turn of the last page.

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Ella King's novel is one of the most intriguing novels I have read in a long time focusing on family dysfunction and child abuse. Lily is about to begin her studies at Oxford but trying to endure the final months at home with her difficult mother, May. Lily is the youngest of three siblings whose parents are Singaporean, May, and British, Charlie. Jacob and Julia have left home. Jacob is already divorced with two young children. Julia swears she will never get married or have children. Charlie is a forensic pathologist and comes and goes at irregular intervals, sometimes for days.

Lily is May's caretaker. May is childlike in many ways, including the food she will or will not eat. May loves the color pink and has a collection of teddy bears she talks to. May is mercurial and Lily never knows what tiny thing will set her off so Lily is living a nightmare. She has funny little flashes of memories that seem to be things her mother told her about her childhood in Singapore. Unfortunately, Lily doesn't know what is real about her mother's memories. When May goes off on a tangent about money or food, Charlie quickly has a job he needs to tend to and Lily is left to take care of her mother.

As the novel gets deeper into May's life and Lily's difficulties with dealing with everything, the full dysfunction comes to the forefront. Fortunately, Lily meets a young professor at Oxford who seems to understand the hell Lily has been subjected to and tries to help. Things get much worse as the novel reaches a climax and I was glued to my seat, wanting to call the police myself! This debut novel is a perfect beginning for Ella King's literary career. I loved the book.

Thank you to the author, NetGalley, and the publisher for this ARC.

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Lily is “Mama’s Girl” or “Mama’s Doll.” She’s the youngest of three siblings, and in order to retain her position as the favorite, she’ll do whatever Mama asks. With a Chinese mother from Singapore and white father from London, Lily doesn’t quite fit in. She dyes her hair blacker, she wears contacts to hide her heterochromia, she wears yellow-toned makeup to make her look more Chinese, more like her mother’s daughter. But she’s so much like Mama that she’s started experiencing flashbacks that seem to be of her mother’s life. Lily’s mother appears to be increasingly unhinged as Lily gets closer to moving out of the house and going to Oxford, and as all of their lives seemingly start to unravel in front of them.

Please note that this is *significantly darker* than most books I review, and I’ve listed content warnings at the bottom in case you prefer to go in unspoiled. It’s psychological thriller in style, and starts slowly as King sets her stage, picking up pace towards the middle of the book, and then by the end I was frantically flipping pages to find out the ending. (I’m so used to happy endings these days and now cannot handle not knowing where something will end.)

The entire book is told from Lily’s perspective, and having an eighteen-year-old unreliable narrator raises the stakes in this one. The interplay of relationships - mother-daughter, father-daughter, siblings - makes this one particularly interesting, too. I’m also always fascinated by stories that play with the concepts of flashbacks and memories. The book does some heavy lifting with the concept of identity, as well, particularly as Lily is torn between multiple worlds of Chinese and white identities, mother and father, past and present, and self and other.

I’d like you all to please read this one so I have more people to talk about it with! I can’t say much more without spoilers at this point. I highly recommend picking this up as a buddy read so you can tear apart theories with a friend as you go! It reminded me of my favorite Emily St John Mandel book, Last Night in Montreal, so if you read and liked that, I recommend this as well.

Thank you to @astrahousebooks and @netgalley for the eARC for review. This is out 8/23/22.

CW: emotional abuse, sexual assault, memory loss

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Thank you to Netgalley and Astra Publishing House for an egalley in exchange for my honest review.

Bad Fruit is gorgeous and complex and maybe hits a little too close to home.

We see a story of family and memory told through the protagonist, college-bound Lily, while living with an abusive narcissist, as she transitions from the place of Golden Child to Scapegoat.

All her life, Lily has had a special ability to “handle” her mother, to baby her or manipulate her just enough to lighten the emotional load for her siblings and father. The family walks on eggshells, they live with a woman they can’t stand, but they love her so fiercely, and they need the support she so often withholds, so they cannot leave.

I’ve seen stories like this glaze over what these dynamics are like, but Bad Fruit doesn’t pull punches. The beauty and the ugliness of family is laid bare. Sometimes literally.

Lily is such a moving protagonist, even when she is trapped under her mother’s thumb. We spend the novel following her attempts to change the status quo and undo the cycle of violence, as she tries and fails.

It offers such a unique perspective of how ugly it can be to be the Golden Child, which is something I don’t think many of us know. I see so many perspectives from scapegoat kids, I thought we definitely had it worse. But this story shows that being the Golden Child is ugly as well, but maybe just in a different way. Conformity and degradation come at a great personal cost for Golden Children.

I loved it. It gave me insight.

The protagonists fascination with etymology was something I found to be unique and interesting to learn about and it often gave greater insight into the more subtle relationship dynamics between characters. If anything, this was a little bit under used. But it made the ending very satisfying.

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