This sounded so close to one of my favorite short stories, “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, that I couldn’t resist. I wasn’t disappointed. Lush prose, exotic Carribean culture and ghosts tangle with unhinged science and poisoned kisses for a dark, magical atmosphere, and a mystery that you might not want to solve. Throw in some seriously complex complications for a seemingly doomed love story, and you have a book that is hard to put down.
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.
My only complaint was Lucas, the narrator. He tried not to be the trust fund jerk his father wanted him to be, but he still came across as over-privileged, cocky, and too much of a player for my taste. His latest hook-up dies and he seems concerned, but he still keeps romancing girls in the midst of the mess? I found it hard to take. I do understand some of the decisions that shaped his character – they were necessary to develop the rather intriguing and light commentary on modern day colonialism. I just didn’t like those parts of him. Most readers will forgive him by the end and forget that such an intrinsic change is a little hard to really believe. Overall, this is an engaging mystery and a beautifully written book. It is a little more magical realism than Hawthorne’s dark romanticism, but it didn’t have that over the top weird or the hard to follow plot twists that I associate with that style. I think it has an audience for high school readers and adult readers of YA as well. Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.