Published by Algonquin Young Readers on April 12th 2016
Genres: young adult, fantasy
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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.
First thing you should know about A Fierce and Subtle Poison, the blurb is kind of misleading. There is no magical world. The setting is Puerto Rico, there’s a curse, a sick girl, drowning victims, poisonous plants, and a mysterious house at the end of a lane. But magical? I would not describe any of that as magical. There is also nothing that is “enchanted.” Blurb writers need to stick to the facts. I know many readers don’t read blurbs anyway, but I do; in fact, I am a HUGE blurb reader. The first thing to draw me in is a cover. Then I read the blurb. Now if I had a short fuse, that blurb would have pissed me off. Sometimes I think they use words just to fill in the spaces, and that does a huge disservice to the books.
But fortunately for the publisher, I liked it anyway. That is not always the case.
This book is strange and mysterious. It’s definitely original and set in a place we don’t get to read about often. In fact, I think the writing was my favorite part of A Fierce and Subtle Poison. Mabry really brought Puerto Rico to life through her words and storytelling. The myths I read about were fascinating, and there were some delightful touches of Puerto Rican culture. We get to visit several cities through the narrative, and now I sort of want to visit there. It’s a cheap option for travel since I don’t need a visa or anything as I am American.
The story is part mystery, part paranormal. I appreciate the author for taking a different route with the relationship development, but I don’t want to talk about that because of spoilers. What I do want to say though is that the evolution of the relationships, romantic and otherwise, felt very organic and well-crafted.
The one thing that I didn’t care for that I want to touch on is the pacing. It’s up and down. Some parts are SUPER tense (the last twenty percent), and then there are parts where it feels like nothing is going on at all. I believe this is due to the fact the book tries to do too much. There are all these myths and a curse, but then girls are being murdered and washing up on the beach also. Plus, no one knows what is going on at the house at the end of the street, and also we have the interpersonal conflict between Lucas and his father. Not to mention the parallels between Lucas’s mother leaving him when he was a child, and the wife disappearing from the house at the end of Calle Sol. There is just SO much going on that it feel jumbled. Everything by itself was super intriguing, but I don’t feel it all tied together as well as it could have.
I want to give the author credit though for writing something super unique and getting it sold in this market. This gives me hope that books with diverse characters and cultures have a chance. And it’s what I am leaning towards right now. I am looking for things I haven’t read before. I want originality, regardless of the genre. I’ll be looking for more books like A Fierce and Subtle Poison as the year progresses. And if you have any recommendations you think I might like, please let me know in the comments.