The last Wednesday of the month means… monthly book review! November’s selection was A Fierce & Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry, which is a mystery with a splash of sci-fi that takes place in Puerto Rico.
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Last month I wrote that it was an unusual experience for me to read a book with a male protagonist, since ever since the Virtual Book Club started most of our selections have been female-led. Lo and behold, the main character in our November book was a 17 year old male! It took me several pages to realize this since A Firece & Subtle Poison is written by a woman, and has female hands on the cover.
Lucas is a 17-year-old Texan who goes to Puerto Rico every summer since his father is a hotel developer there. Although he is a mainland American, he has spent a significant amount of time on the island since his childhood. He has a core group of local friends that he returns to each year. He and the friends heard scary stories about the boarded-up home down the street when they were children. Later, as tweens, they’d fold up paper wishes and throw them into the garden of the boarded-up house. Finally, when the book gets underway, he is a teenager sneaking down the alleyway of the mysterious house to make out with girls. The book unfolds in three parts.
The exposition is where we learn about the various old señoras’ rumors pertaining to the mysterious house. Lucas meets a girl who he falls for, Marisol. Then, Marisol disappears. In the middle act, Lucas meets a strange, sick girl who lives in the mysterious house. At the end, there is a dramatic and exciting chase through the jungle. Overall it was a really easy read that I finished in one day.
I recommend this for teens that like Stephanie Meyer (although I’ve never read Twilight or any other books by her) since this is a mystery & pseudo-romance with creepy paranormal/sci-fi elements. It was pretty surface-level for what it was, which is OK for a YA book.
The thing that really got my brain going, and possibly the deepest thread in the book, was about Lucas’s real-estate-developer father’s impact on Puerto Rico and the impression that the locals had about the outsiders. I really got deep into what it means to be an insider and an outsider. I think of the recent development and rejuvenation of Tijuana, which I certainly benefit from and I think benefits the city as a whole (jobs, quality of life), but I realize that development like this widens the wealth disparity and pushes the poor farther out from the city center. The standard pros and cons of gentrification.
Then I got thinking about Puerto Rico and how there is another layer to the dynamic. In the novel they see the rich Texans as outsiders, which I think is valid. There is a natural reaction of suspicion to “otherness.” But if PR is an American territory, and we are all Americans — which was the rallying cry after our government refused, and still struggles to aid Puerto Rico after the recent devastating hurricane season — then it’s definitely a double edged sword. Do we belong to each other, or don’t we? Very &/Both, if you will. The us/them dichotomy clashes with a “we are Puerto Ricans but also Americans” sentiment and the fact that many mainland Americans didn’t even know that PR was part of us until recently.
Layers, on layers, with lots of opinions, lots of gray area, and no real answers. Except, you know, that FEMA needs to get it together and send some more help down there. That we can all agree on.
As always, leave your comments below or link me to your review if you’ve already posted it on Goodreads or Amazon! I would love to read your take!
Our Virtual Book Club normally meets the last Tuesday of the month over on Facebook. Did anyone else have whiplash from Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Biz Sat, etc? I think that impacted the number of attendees we had online last night but nevertheless it was great checking in with my fellow readers. We are always looking to grow our group. If you’d like to join us over there, message me on Facebook to be added.
For December, I challenged the group to either re-read a childhood favorite or pick a youth/children’s book that they never got around to. I am currently deciding between Anne of Green Gables and A Wrinkle in Time (because, Mindy Kaling). I may just read both.
Please join along as we continue reading interesting books and debating ideas in a friendly space.