Double Book Review: April Debut Novels

There have been countless new releases these past couple weeks, but two debut novels listed on Netgalley caught my eye. Both young adult fiction, My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul and A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry are two very different but equally engaging books. Read my full reviews of both books below!

My Kind of Crazy by Robin Reul (April 5)

My Kind of Crazy book cover

This YA romance begins with a ‘promposal’ gone wrong that leads to comics-nerd Hank Kirby meeting and befriending loner (and pyromanic) Peyton Breedlove. Peyton is the only one that knows Hank is responsible for the fire on Amanda Carlisle’s lawn, and so he is initially nice to her in the hope that she won’t turn him into the cops. Once it’s clear that is not her intention, Hank begins to open up, and he realizes that Peyton’s home life may be even worse than his own. Peyton clearly begins to develop feelings for Hank, but he remains oblivious for a long time, partly out of allegiance to his friend Nick who is interested in dating her.

It’s hard to talk about the strengths of My Kind of Crazy without giving away too much of the book’s major plot twist. Hank and Peyton are both quirky individuals, with difficult home lives: Hank lives with an alcoholic father who doesn’t seem to understand that the loss of his mother and brother was hard on Hank too; Peyton lives with an often-absent mother and her mother’s live-in boyfriend who is frequently drunk (and when Hank sees him, usually yelling at Peyton). Reul’s characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, and I found myself rooting for them to not just survive but to thrive.

I saw a review for My Kind of Crazy on Goodreads that compared it to a John Hughes movie and I think that is the most accurate comparison that one could make. My Kind of Crazy is a book that balances out its dark moments with humor, and includes a cast of quirky but believable characters. Being from Massachusetts, I could also picture exactly the kind of town these kids were living in (Hank’s dad is a big Red Sox fan), which helped the story come even more alive for me. If you’re looking for a quirky YA romance that isn’t afraid to deal with some of the darker sides of life, you will enjoy My Kind of Crazy. I know I did.

You can purchase My Kind of Crazy from IndieBound here, or request it from your local library!

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry (April 12)

A Fierce and Subtle Poison book cover

Set mostly in old San Juan in Puerto Rico, A Fierce and Subtle Poison tells the story of gringo Lucas, and a mysterious cursed girl hidden away in her father’s house. It’s a stunning magical realism debut by Samantha Mabry that brings the island of Puerto Rico and the city of San Juan to life. Lucas is seventeen, and though he spends the school year in Texas, his summers are spent loafing around on the island where his father (also American) is a hotel developer. Lucas has heard countless stories about the house at the end of Calle Sol, but he never expected to find out how many of them hold some truth.

Mabry makes an interesting choice in A Fierce and Subtle Poison in that her narrator is not Puerto Rican (his mother was Dominican, father a white American), which affects his view of life on the island. He is an outsider, so he has both freedoms that some of his friends do not (the most obvious being money), and limitations (a detective who has it in for him because he’s a rich white kid). There were a couple of moments in the narrative where I found myself questioning how something was being described – and then had to remind myself that the narrator was a seventeen year old American kid, and he probably wouldn’t think about things reinforcing colonialist stereotypes. On the whole I didn’t find it distracting though, and I can understand why Mabry would choose to have an outsider as the one to befriend the mysterious cursed girl.

Every time I read a magical realism book I find myself asking why I don’t read more of them, and the answer is usually that I’m just too lazy to go look for them. I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Fierce and Subtle Poison and look forward to reading anything Mabry might publish in the future. If you’re looking for a fantastical (and summer-y) tale, check out A Fierce and Subtle Poison. You might just find yourself as drawn into an adventurous summer on Puerto Rico as I was.

You can purchase A Fierce and Subtle Poison from IndieBound here, or you can request it from your local library!

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