Title: A Fierce and Subtle Poison
Author: Samantha Mabry
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: April 12th 2016
Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl—Isabel, the one the señoras 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.
– Blurb courtesy of goodreads.com
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
My Thoughts On…
Lucas has spent every summer in El Morro as his father works to develop the small town building luxury hotels. When he was younger he would spend his days listening to stories, mainly about the house at the end of the street, and creating adventures with his friends. Now they’re older Lucas spends his time drinking on the beach and picking up girls, but he still listens to the stories and his is still curious about the house at the end of the street.
However there is something terrible happening. There have always been Puerto Rican girls going missing, desaparecidas, the disappeared girls who vanish without a trace never to be seen again. But when a girl from the mainland goes missing a full scale search is launched, and later when Lucas’s girlfriend, Marisol, washes up on the beach it appears there is something more sinister at play than accidental drownings. The rash on Marisol’s neck points to poison and there is one house in El Morro which grows poisonous plants like daisies.
While the police are focused on Lucas as a suspect, Lucas finally makes his way into the house at the end of the street; and there he meets Isabel. Isabel is the cursed child the locals have been talking about and dreaming about for years. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, they say she can grant wishes, they say her father killed her mother or that her mother killed herself, they say that her mother left a curse on her home and that’s why no birds will fly over. The truth however is much more unsettling; Isabel has poison flowing through her veins. She cannot touch someone without making them deadly sick, and she needs to surrounded herself with plants in order to stay well enough to survive.
The more time Lucas spends with Isabel the more things start to get dangerous for the both of them, and not just because of Isabel’s curse. Then when Marisol’s younger sister Celia goes missing the hunt for the killer and kidnapper intensifies, and Lucas finds himself a suspect, stuck in between the law and a very dangerous person.
Lucas, on paper, seemed like a great character. Granted he had his faults but he was well developed. Lucas is interested in the history and culture of El Morro and Puerto Rico, seeking out all the local tales the señoras whisper about his father and the cursed girl with green skin and grass for hair. Lucas has never had to work for anything, he knows he has a job waiting for him in his father’s company once he finishes school, but he seems detached from the world at times; curious about walking into the sea and letting the tide carry him away.
However there was something about Lucas that just seemed flat. His relationship with the other characters was never really deep enough to feel real. He rarely interacted with his father, the two of them awkward and tense with one another, and he seemed to hold something back from his friends. Honestly they didn’t seem like real friend, just people he hung around with in El Morro. The relationship Lucas had with Marisol seemed more like a distraction, a bit of fun, for Lucas; and his relationship with Isabel felt like one mostly of idolisation than true friendship or love.
Isabel I adored. She has been trapped in her house, surrounded by the poisonous plants she needs to survive, since she was born. The people of El Morro have told stories about her her whole live, ever since she started appearing in their dreams, and they throw their wishes to her over her fence. Isabel is a strong character; because of her curse she is desperate for a cure. She just wants a normal life and is willing to close her eyes to anything bad happening around her if she hopes it will enable her to leave her home without a blanket of plants wrapped around her shoulders.
The relationship between Isabel and Lucas felt like one of shallow idolisation. On one hand there’s Lucas, who has a hero complex and wants to ‘save’ Isabel. As he listened to the stories told by the señoras he formed a picture of the girl in his mind and becomes curious about her, her home, and the truth behind the whispers. Then on the other hand there’s Isabel, who has watched Lucas pretty much every summer he was in El Morro. She knows a lot about him and seems to see past his surface emotions to who he really is. She understands him in a way most other people don’t but I didn’t think the two really interacted much together to make their relationship any more than superficial.
I loved the setting for this book. Mabry has richly described the city in Puerto Rico where Lucas spends his summers; the good, the beaches and the Festival de San Juan which lines the streets in June, and the bad, the mosquitoes which swarm the streets every few years. However the thing I loved the most about the setting of this book was hearing the stories Lucas eagerly sought out, the whispers the señoras share with him; about Isabel’s curse and what happened between her mother and father in the house at the end of the street, about the nun who inhabited and died in Lucas’s room when it was still a covenant. The city is a very tight knit community; the locals don’t like or trust Lucas or his father, to them he is the white man who has come in and is shaking up their lives to create luxury hotels. The distrust and disgust Lucas faces, not only from the police but from his friends and other locals, only adds to the story and the closeness of the community of El Morro.
I did really like this book, it was a very quick read for me but every last page was enjoyable and it was a unique concept which I loved. Granted I wasn’t keen on some of the character development but the local tales and myths which Mabry wove throughout her story seemed to make the city of El Morro come alive on the page.
What did you think of A Fierce and Subtle Poison? Was it a favourite of yours or could you just not get into the story? Let me know.
All quotes have been taken from an ARC and may differ in the final publication.