Algonquin Young Readers
April 12, 2016
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In this stunning debut, legends collide with reality when a boy is swept into the magical, dangerous world of a girl filled with poison.
Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl--Isabel, the one the senoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.
Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic. When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers--and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison beautifully blends magical realism with a page-turning mystery and a dark, starcrossed romance--all delivered in lush, urgent prose.
“A breathtaking story in which myths come to frightening life and buried wishes might actually come true. This is a hypnotic debut by a remarkable talent.” —Nova Ren Suma, author of The Walls Around Us and Imaginary Girls
I loved A Fierce and Subtle Poison so much more than I ever expected I would. Something about the description left me unsure if I really was interested or not. Since it was on NetGalley at the end of last year, though, I knew I had time before the April release to read it.
I read this in November and adored it. I was only going to read a few pages and see what I thought but I couldn't put it down.
The setting, that it's in Puerto Rico but partially at the fancy hotel of Lucas's father and partially in the surrounding town, with all of the differences between the two, was great. Lucas's father cares not for the land and its people but for the money he can make from them. Lucas, on the other hand, likes being part of the local life. He has his friends, things to do and enjoys hearing the senoras' stories.
Their stories about Isabel, the girl who lives in the mysterious, walled home, who survives thanks to her poisonous plants, particularly interest Lucas. Though, it's the letters that begin showing up in his hotel room that really capture his attention.
I loved the writing of A Fierce and Subtle Poison. Although it has a modern setting, the novel felt very much like one of the stories the women in the book would tell; like a fairy tale or a fable. The way that readers - and the characters - question if there is magic and if so, what is magical and what's just fantastic, skilled storytelling made for a great read.
Lucas' character, the way the blend of (and contrast between) Caribbean, island life and the more structured, ordered world was present in his personality and his current situation in several, layered ways, was great. I liked that his family and his upbringing played into it, especially in his relationship with his father and it made his a unique person there. Thanks to the summers he spends there, Lucas isn't completely an outsider, but he's also not not one, either.
The story went in quite a different direction than I was anticipating but it worked so well. The truth about Isabel, the lore of the house at the end of the street and the scientist, and how Lucas fits into it all was fantastic.
A Fierce and Subtle Poison and Samantha Mabry's writing really do make you feel like you're in the middle of a sticky, hot, humid Puerto Rican summer, about to uncover something magical.
review copy received, via NetGalley, from publisher