A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry


A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

Division 4 and up
Received: Library
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
3 out of 5 stars

The Blurb:
Lucas has always been fascinated by the cursed house at the end of the road. He comes to Puerto Rico every summer with his hotel developer father, and he’s grown up hearing stories about the scientist who lives in the house and his missing wife and his poisonous daughter who can grant wishes. When his new girlfriend disappears, he finds himself turning to the legend for answers.

The house at the end of the street is full of bad air.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Note: I am a white, Canadian reader, who has not been exposed to a lot of Latinx stories or media. My difficulties with the text very well could have a lot more to do with my inexperience with the material rather than with the material itself.

I am still trying to figure out how I feel about this book. On one hand, it was a beautifully written story, with a lot of intriguing elements, and the plot itself was quite grippping. On the other hand, we have our narrator.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Lucas, our narrator, is supposed to make the reader uncomfortable. I don’t think that he’s supposed to be a particularly likable character. Lucas definitely suffers from a white-saviour complex. He’s obsessed with girls (and touching them and kissing them), and he moves from one girl to another with alarming speed. He’s spoiled, and he knows it. He is treated differently because he’s a white boy from the mainland, and he hates it. I really did not enjoy reading this story from Lucas’ perspective. There are points where he is aware of how awful he is being, mostly in regards to his privilege, but there were way too many moments where he was completely unaware and I just had difficulty reading from his perspective. Mostly, these were the parts when he was describing the girls around him, or what he was imagining doing to those girls. He was so focused on kissing and touching and it started to feel like that was all these girls were to him, just things that he could kiss and touch and that would kiss and touch him back. He was a big stumbling block for me – he was what made me want to put the book down and take a break.

The plot was an interesting mix of mystery and magical realism, and I pushed through Lucas’ narration to find out what was happening. The writing itself was quite magical, and I’d definitely be interested in reading more of Samantha Mabry’s work. The magical realism sucked me in, and it made me feel like if I were to book a flight to Puerto Rico, then I would most definitely see a ciguapa, and possibly get tangled up in a curse.

Was this a good book? Yes?
Was it a bad book? No.
Am I still thinking about the story after I’ve finished? Yes.
Did this book make me want to look up different Puerto Rican and Latin American folk tales? Yes.
Would I recommend this book to anyone and everyone? I’m not sure.

To me, stories were stronger than the truth.

The Verdict:
In all honesty, the verdict is still out on this book. I’d be really interested to hear the perspective of Puerto Rican readers, and readers who have more experience reading Latinx stories. I wish my thoughts were more coherent – but I’m just really conflicted.


5 thoughts on “A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

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