Thursday, July 16, 2009


Poison, by Chris Wooding, is another one of the YA books we took on our trip to France and traded around. I had a glut of YA reviews there for a while, so I saved this one, partly because it was among the best of the lot, and also because Eleanor and I had read it before and she liked it enough to buy the paperback, while I only vaguely remembered it when I started re-reading on the way home, and had to finish it again once we got here, at which time I had two million other things to do.

Things are settled down now in our household; we've seen the Harry Potter movie (and liked it) and we actually have an unscheduled weekend coming up. We were going to go to a baseball game, but since the Columbus Clippers have a new baseball field downtown at Huntington Park we couldn't get tickets that weren't (literally) way out in left field when we started looking for some a few weeks ago. After years of sitting far from the field at Baltimore Orioles games, we liked the old Clippers field south of town, where you could sit close, catch foul balls, and call for tickets the week before.

So why didn't I remember reading Poison before? I think because it's almost like two books. The first is a traditional kind of fairy story, enlivened by the feistiness of the main character, who grows up in a swamp (this makes me want to burst into song every time I think of it: "I COME FROM THE LAND OF THE FOGGY, FOGGY DEW-EW-EW-EW-EW...WHERE WALKIN' THROUGH THE MEADOW IN THE MORNING IS LIKE WALKIN' THROUGH GLUE..."). The main character names herself "Poison" in a fit of adolescent bravado and in reaction to something her stepmother said, and then she goes off on a quest to find her baby sister, who was taken by the "phairies." Along the way she is tested and has adventures and succeeds in obtaining the object the Phairie Lord promises to exchange for her sister. He's an old-style dangerous fairy, with a face that "had all the beauty of the phaerie folk, but his eyes were hard and cruel and arrogant." When Poison completes the task he sets her, I'd say that's the end of the first book.

The second book is an integral part of the first, but it's the part I'd forgotten about when I began re-reading. It has to do with the fact that Poison names herself, and that she is telling her own story. It's less predictable, and more interesting. It's about the nature of fiction itself, and how we can know "the dancer from the dance." It was a fun part of the book for me to re-discover, so I don't want to give away the secrets and spoil any of the pleasure for you.

I know that much of Eleanor's pleasure in this book is the self-reflexiveness of the prose, as in this passage:
"She was tempted to remark that this place didn't seem so bad, but she knew well enough that the moment she did so, something horrible would happen to them. How was it that life, like a story, had such a sense of comic timing?"
I know this because, in our travels, I said something that was meant to be reassuring to her about how we were finding our way through the Paris Metro system and part of it came out "relax, now that we've done this, what can happen?" She blanched, and pointed out that in fiction, saying something like that is inviting immediate disaster.

But, in fact, there was no disaster, we made it to all our destinations by train, and if we have any wild adventures now that we're home, I think I can say that it's not fair to attribute them to my admittedly horror-movie-style question! Have you ever asked a question like that? If so, did life imitate fiction??


FreshHell said...

I try to avoid even thinking things like this because I'm a big believer in the jinx. I refuse to mention how long my children have gone since a major illness (oops) or I'll catch myself thinking that my car hasn't broken lately. And then I spend $1,000 getting it fixed the next week. Sounds like a good book. What age range do you think its appropriate for?

Alison said...

FYI about the new ballpark. Section 1, which looks to be way out in right field, is actually a really nice place to watch a game. Prime foul ball territory, a good view of first base, and close to the barbecue concession.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, I'm not a big believer in age ranges because they've never applied to me, my kids, or anyone I know. I think if you're old enough to read it, you should feel welcome. Having said that, there's nothing in Poison that would be distressing in terms of violence or sex. Arachnaphobia maybe, but I got through the section with spiders okay so probably anyone past kindergarten age can!

Jeanne said...

Alison, we'll keep that in mind for next year, I guess. There was nothing in section one on the weekends we're free this summer.

FreshHell said...

Thanks. I asked because I have an 8 yr old reading on a 6th grade level and I'm looking for challenging but appropriate books for her constantly. I was curious what range it was pegged for.

Bart's Bookshelf said...

Hi there. Great review!

Just dropping by as the host of the Aug 2nd edition of the Book Reviews Blog Carnival, to let you know I've added you to the post.

Thanks for submitting your review. :o)