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Literature / A Fierce And Subtle Poison

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"How would you describe your condition?" I asked. Isabel didn't respond. Instead, her eyes landed on a wasp, possibly the same one that had been buzzing in my ear earlier. Isabel turned her chin slightly in its direction. She blew out as if extinguishing a candle flame. For a spit-second the wasp hovered in the air. Then it dropped dead to the ground.
Lucas Knight
A Young Adult Magic Realism novel written by Samantha Mabry. Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl—Isabel, the one the senoras 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.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Escapism: A recurring theme in the novel. All across the book, the narrative is side-tracked by various stories and myths commonly passed down by word of mouth by the inhabitants of the island. Given that the novel is told from Lucas's perspective, this is likely him intentionally trying to avoid his problems and try to find some connection with the inhabitants. Even the supposed origins of Isabel's "condition" are fantastical enough not to be believed, accepted to be true because it is the closest thing to an explanation. It does not help that the one who told Isabel the story was her dad.
  • Expy: The plot bares many resemblances to the Nathaniel Hawthorne story Rappaccinis Daughter.
  • Fall Guy: Dr. Ford tells the police that Lucas killed the girls and then confessed his crimes, ending with Lucas getting arrested.
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  • Hero of Another Story: While the story takes place from Lucas's perspective, the big talk between Isabel and her father, the villain, all happens without the reader knowing what they are saying. Because the story is told from Lucas's perspective, we miss the big, dramatic climax because Lucas was too far away from them to be involved in it.
  • Jerkass Gods: According to Isabel, her mother told her village that her brother would bring ruin because a god told her too. A reason is never given as to WHY this god wanted this to happen, but it happened.
  • Life Isn't Fair: Lucas' philosophy and the sorta-kinda moral of the story.
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. Ford experiments on native girls in hopes of curing his daughter of her condition, dumping the bodies on the beach.
  • Make a Wish: A common urban legend passed around by the kiddies is that if you write down your wish and throw it over Dr. Ford's fence, the mysterious witch that lives there she being Isabel will grant your wish, Isabel having kept everyone's wishes in a box as a hobby. Oddly enough, an old woman somehow recognized Isabel and gave her a wish, despite being in a different town and not possibly knowing who Isabel was.
  • Missing Mom: Something both Lucas and Isabel can relate to. Lucas's mom left him and his father one day while he was in grad-school, leaving nothing but a note for him on construction paper, claiming that she left with his welfare in mind. He later threw it away, knowing that these kind words were all just that. Words. Isabel's mom claimed that her brother cursed her with a poisonous womb. When she became pregnant, she was convinced that she was pregnant with Fetus Terrible. After Isabel was born, she left Isabel and her husband while he left for groceries and has not been seen since.
  • Patricide: Is more or less how the villain dies.
  • Persecution Flip: A sizable chunk of of the island's natives including the police and the elderly seems to hate Lucas, seeing him as a Fratbro committing a Wacky Fratboy Hijinx or two at the expense of the island. While he is guilty of this some of the time, most of the book portrays their vitriol as unjustified. This could be pinned on his father's efforts to gentrificate the island through his hotel, bringing mainland tourists with him.
  • Power at a Price: Isabel exudes a poisonous aura, as well as a poisonous touch that bares similarity to that of tropical plants. Supposedly immune to the poison, she requires plants in order for her to survive, the poison in her system slowly killing her at the same time.
  • The Savage South: Isabel claims that when her mother was young, she received a vision from a man telling her to beware a scar on his cheek. Her brother has this very same scar. When she told the village about this, the village elder told her that she was visited by the god, and the village takes care of her brother, supposedly saving them from a grim fate. Presumably.
  • The Un Reveal: Aside from being a little pale, Isabel does NOT have green skin and sea-weed hair like everyone thought.


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