Title: A Fierce and Subtle Poison
Author: Samantha Mabry
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Magical Realism
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
I received this book for free from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book, or the content of my review
Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives is from the mainland but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up listening to the señoras tell stories about the cursed house at the end of Calle Sol. About how the scientist that lives there neglected his wife, so much so that it drove her mad. And how one December she fled, leaving behind a curse and a child—Isabel. She’s the reason all the birds in Old San Juan stopped flying over the house. They say the girl’s filled with poison, with green skin and grass for hair. Some even say that she can grant wishes.
As a boy, Lucas threw a note into Isabel’s yard—a wish for the curse to be lifted and the birds to fly over the house once more.
Six years later, he gets a response. Notes from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing at Lucas’ doorstep, the same day his new girlfriend—Marisol—disappears and subsequently winds up dead on the beach. He seeks out the poison girl for answers—who to his surprise has neither green skin nor grass for hair—so no more girls suffer the same fate.
But Isabel’s help might just destroy them both.
I’m not going to lie, what first drew me to Samantha Mabry’s A Fierce and Subtle Poison was the cover. Just look at it. It’s gorgeous. That and I heard a lot of hype about this book. Thankfully I can say it’s well deserved. I don’t read a lot of magical realism—which is what I’m categorizing this as—but Mabry’s story was truly captivating and her writing strong.
Lucas was a great main character. He’s flawed and entitled but also very self-aware. Plus, it’s been a while since I’ve read a young adult novel with a male protagonist. The storyline with his mother leaving intrigued me, and I’m a little disappointed nothing ever came of it. Beyond that, his status as an outsider on the island creates a great dynamic between him, the locals, and his friends. It also makes his bond with Isabel more believable—as they’re both outsiders.
Isabel was also a strong and complex character. She does some questionable things, but her situation makes her very sympathetic. Like Lucas, she acknowledges when her actions are wrong and takes it upon herself to rectify them. I really enjoyed this shift in her. It would’ve been really easy for Isabel to be overshadowed by the myth of the green-skinned girl, but Mabry makes sure to really humanize her.
In terms of supporting characters, I think the fathers of Lucas and Isabel could’ve been more fleshed out. Both men are left by their wives, and a lot of their character is attributed to that. Yet, I felt like there had to be more given in order to explain their harsh personalities and actions. Besides that, we have Lucas’ island friends, who to me just blurred together.
Puerto Rico acted as more than just a setting; its culture was completely infused throughout the story. I loved learning all the different legends—whether it be about the storm goddess or Isabel’s mother.
The ending of the book is very open, which is something that I appreciated. If it was forced one way or another I think it would’ve been very cliché and predictable—and if that doesn’t make sense, it will when you read it.
You can check out author Samantha Mabry at samanthamabry.com. A Fierce and Subtle Poison is out today and available for purchase on Amazon. Let me know what you think in the comments. Plus leave recommendations for my next book!