A Fierce and Subtle Poison

288p. ebook available. Algonquin. Apr. 2016. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781616205218.
Gr 7 Up—This first-person murder mystery is set in Puerto Rico, where Lucas, a biracial 17-year-old with blond hair and blue eyes, finds himself the prime suspect in the murders of two young women. It doesn't help that his hotel-developing American father is wealthy or that he enjoys frequenting parties. Even some of his local friends doubt his credibility given that he discovered the body of one of the victims, the beautiful Marisol—and his latest fling. Despite his shock, Lucas continues to be magnetically drawn to the ominous home of the American scientist Dr. Ford with its supposed wish-granting ghost. When he finds the man's spirited daughter Isabel instead, Lucas begins to understand the cause of recent bizarre events, and the two work together in a race against time to prevent further killings. Yet proximity to the girl results in physical illness, as well as a fatalistic attraction despite plagues of mosquitoes and even a hurricane. The magical realism in this book draws heavily on themes related to science and scientific research evidenced in Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Rappaccini's Daughter," intertwined with references to legends of Dominican ciguapas—beautiful mythic female beings that lure men to their death. The "exotic" foreign setting includes suspicious, gossiping locals; lush landscapes; and extreme weather, together with eerie romance and unexpected perils requiring superherolike resolve and physical stamina. This book will appeal to teens, particularly fans of romance and murder mysteries; however, Lucas's outsider perspective toward the island, particularly at the beginning of the text, tends to mask critical themes of race, power, and identity, as well as the impact of U.S. control in Puerto Rico.
VERDICT A complex text best used in book clubs or classrooms where teens can discuss the dominant monocultural readings of the book, as well as the tourist perspectives of Puerto Rico.

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