A Fierce and Subtle Poison

A Fierce and Subtle Poison

Book - 2016
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Spending the summer with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico, seventeen-year-old Lucas turns to a legendary cursed girl filled with poison when his girlfriend mysteriously disappears.
Publisher: Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781616205218
Branch Call Number: FICTION (TEEN) Mabry, Samantha
Characteristics: 279 pages ; 22 cm


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Sep 23, 2016

I'm proud to be in the minority that greatly enjoyed this book. I've read the Goodreads 3-tar (and fewer) reviews about this book and they don't make sense to me. So let me tell you what's great about this story:

The setting. Puerto Rico absolutely breathes in the narrative. The heat, the mosquitos, the old, ancient magic of that lush tropical island. I have never been there, but the author writes as someone who knows it in her bones. In fact, Puerto Rico herself plays a role in many facets of the plot (and I love me a setting-as-character story).

The narrator. I don't read a lot of YA stories with a male perspective/narrator. I think it's a shame. Luke, the protagonist, comes off as genuine. He actually reminds me a lot of my middle brother. He has paternal conflict, he's a live-in-the-now kind of kid, he loves the island even though he doesn't connect with the people, and he has a self-destructive streak.

The messy emotions. There's a guy and two girls but NOT a love triangle. There's a lot of anger and resentment and guilt and other messy things that resonated with me but I can't mention because spoilers. And the story ends in a satisfactory manor, without undermining the messy stuff.

Magical realism. Need I say more? It's beautifully done, in a sometimes-creepy, sometimes-majestic way that made me want to dig further into Puerto Rican mythology and folklore.

An angry girl. Another thing I don't see often. Not a sulky teen, but a girl with reason to be angry, who isn't afraid to be angry, who doesn't feel the need to make nice in order to get shit done.

No slut shaming. Huzzah! This is so crucial with a male narrator- it's realistic to have him lusting after a girl, making out with a girl, focused more on touching her than talking to her (c'mon, folks, we all remember being teenagers). But so many contemporary YA stories seem to feel a knee-jerk response to trot of teen hormones and then shake a finger at the girls indulging in feeling sexually alluring. Not the case here.

Mystery. Not just the primary whodunit, but also this pervading sense of the unknowable, which of course is part of magical realism. But supported by the fact that Luke has the capacity to believe (and the desire to). He's not naive or inexperienced in life, but he's open to and embracing of wonder. And how lovely is that?

Overall, I recommend this to fans of magical realism and folklore/mythology-influenced modern stories, YA in lush settings, realistic teen male narrators, and stories that have romance in them but are not about romance.

Jul 04, 2016

After reading a review I had high hopes for this book. But I was greatly disappointed. The ending left things up in the air for me. The author never made it clear to me why Dr. Ford was abducting and killing girls. How was he using them as research subjects to heal his daughter? Did the events change the main character Lucas to be less of a Lothario? I felt it was an exciting tragedy with no uplifting guidance for teens.

May 10, 2016

I've never read the Hawthorne story and don't know much about Puerto Rico, but I still enjoyed this book, despite Lucas's developer father reminding me of a current political figure. The magical realism is handled well and the colonialist theme is present but not overpowering.


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