April 12, 2016 • Cee • Reviews

A Fierce and Subtle Poison

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry • April 12, 2016 • Algonquin Books for Young Readers
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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.


I received this book for free from Algonquin Books for Young Readers for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

First sentence: “The house at the end of the street is full of bad air.”

Legends tell of a girl with green skin and grass for hair who feeds on poisonous plants, grant wishes, and can kill with a touch. Are these legends really true?

Well, you’ll find out in A Fierce and Subtle Poison.

What You Need To Do in
A Fierce and Subtle Poison

  • Be wary of the gringos.

The natives of Puerto Rico are very wary of gringos—usually Americans—which means they don’t particularly like Lucas Knight, his hotel-developer father, or the infamous scientist-botantist who lives in the cursed house. There’s a natural distrust that happens, which Lucas feels every single day. Here is this privileged kid who summers in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has everything he could ever want, and can get away with anything because he has money. Lucas is an outsider, trying to fit into this place and culture with people who do not like him.

Although I liked we’re reading from a male protagonist’s point of view, I didn’t feel attached to Lucas’s story. I didn’t feel like there was much at stake for him—a privileged guy who can get away with anything because of his family’s wealth. So that disappointed me a bit.

  • Appreciate the different lores about Puerto Rico.

Beware of the cursed girl, the senoras—older ladies—say.

We learn about the different lores the senoras talk about like the cursed house at the end of Calle Sol with the gringo scientist and his wife, the girl with green skin and grass for hair who’s full of poison, a young nun who was in love and killed herself in what is now Lucas’s bedroom, ciguapas—a mythological creature of Dominican folklore who seduce men and then kill them—and so many more. I was absolutely fascinated by all the stories told because it spoke so much about the culture of these people. I wanted to learn more.

  • Stay away from the house at the end of Calle Sol.

The house at the end of Calle Sol is supposedly cursed. Nothing good comes from that house with its courtyard filled with poisonous plants that can kill you. Senoras tell stories of the scientist and his wife, an island girl who left him and was said to have been cursed. Throughout the years, the stories have grown. Sometimes, they say the girl with green skin and grass for hair is a witch who grant wishes, so people start leaving wishes over the courtyard walls of the house. But nobody ever steps foot inside the property who aren’t the scientist. Readers will learn that all is not what it seems with this house and of the inhabitants when Lucas steps inside.

  • Don’t touch the girl filled with poison.

Isabel Ford is the girl that’s the focus of all the crazy lores you hear about in A Fierce and Subtle Poison, but are all the stories true?

Well, Isabel doesn’t have green skin or grass for hair nor can she grant wishes, but you know what is true about her? Isabel is filled with poison that’s killing her. She is quarantined in the house for fear she’ll get sicker and hurt people. The lore says that she can kill with a touch, and that’s pretty much true. She can give you a life-threatening fever that last three days, which is what she did with Lucas when he set his lips on her. This girl is lonely. Having spent her life inside her house, she yearns for a life that other girls have. You get to see how that envy plays out.

  • Be suspicious of everyone in the disappearance of girls case.

Something terrible has been happening in Puerto Rico—girls have been disappearing and are then found dead in the water. Does it have anything to do with Lucas? Or maybe Isabel? Or are they just really accidents?

The mystery behind the disappearances was intriguing, but it let me down because I expected more to be explored.

Should you read A Fierce and Subtle Poison? Yes, get this girl filled with poison in your life! From the different lores of the cursed girl to the wonderful writing about San Juan and the culture with a bit of Spanish interspersed, A Fierce and Subtle Poison will captivate you into its magical realism web.


4 Responses to “(ARC) REVIEW • Beware of the Girl with Green Skin and Grass for Hair (A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry)”

  1. I’ve been eyeing this book for a while now! It just sounds really unique, like I never heard anything about girl with green skin and grass for hair! I’ve read the original story and I wondered if this retelling would end the same way. Plus, look at that cover! That shades of green are really vibrant!

  2. I do have a soft spot for magical realism… And the stories that are involved sound really interesting!
    I’ve seen the cover around before and it’s so eye-catching! I’m pretty intrigued now. Like more intrigued than I was. But I don’t like having to be suspicious of every character in a story! It’s emotionally exhausting. I’ll get this when.. I’ve read like 10 books off my tbr. Book buying ban :(
    Anywayyy, I’ll stop rambling in your comments one of these days, I swear.
    Great review, Willoughby!

  3. Alexa S. says:

    What a lovely review! I thought A Fierce and Subtle Poison was very interesting. I didn’t particularly like Lukas either, but I did like watching the story unfold.

  4. Denise says:

    I’m so pleased you enjoyed this book! I requested it from Netgalley ages ago (that cover is so beautiful, and really caught my eye), but I still haven’t read it. I’m a little nervous to begin actually, because I’ve heard mixed reviews, but to hear you recommend it is very reassuring! I like the sound of the magical realism, and it sounds like such an escape. Thank you for the lovely review! :D

    Denise | The Bibliolater

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