Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Book Mini-Reviews: Poison's Kiss and Optimists Die First

* Poison's Kiss

Marinda wasn't expected to survive as a baby as she was bitten by snakes in order to become the visha kanya or poison maiden. After many painful and horrific treatments, she can be ordered by the Raja to kill anyone anywhere. Marinda hates it and only copes by repeating to herself that these are enemies of the state and people she doesn't know while she keeps her sickly brother healthy. She's finally ordered to kill someone she knows and likes, which causes her to question much of what she's been told, unravelling their secrets.

Poison's Kiss is an interesting fantasy that infuses Indian folklore into the story. Marinda is a sympathetic character who would do anything for her sickly brother Mani, who she cares for like a mother. Her handlers threaten him constantly to make her comply. Other than that, I had nothing but problems with her character. I found it a little unbelievable that she never asked questions about anything until now, but I guess curiosity was taken from her through such an abusive, extreme childhood. Unfortunately, her reaction to almost everything is sitting and crying about it at length. I liked that the books went into much darker places than I expected with assassinations and living gods.

However, it was balanced by Marinda's flatly good outlook on everything and apparently her inability to figure out anything at all. I wanted inner conflict and an antihero, but she had very little agency throughout the book, just going with the flow. Another problem was Marinda's role in the assassinations. Even though she had to kiss to kill, she never really seduced anyone maybe to keep her "pure" in a totally outdated, backwards way. Ilya is the girl who seduces for information (which is an arrangement that doesn't really make sense) and Marinda views her as more terrible for some reason. Marinda was the only part I really had a problem with, but she's the main character, so I don't feel enthused to read the next book.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* Optimists Die First

Petula De Wilde is terrified of accidents. Anything could happen. Freak accidents occur everyday, so she will minimize her risk as much as possible no matter how much people tease her. Her family is torn apart and unrecognizeable since her little sister died due to a freak accident that she blames herself for. After counselling at school failed disastrously, she has to go to art therapy led by a woman who would rather work with elementary age kids. Then a very tall boy walks in with a prosthetic arm named Jacob and her whole life changes.

While I don't like the cliche a boy changes a girl's life thing, Optimists Die First is adept at dealing with grief, anxiety, and making amends. I've heard some criticism about the portrayal of Petula's anxiety, but it is dismissed as trivial by other people. To Petula, it's very real and very serious that she do everything she can to avoid fatal accidents. She has pushed everyone in her life away and opted to wallow in guilt and sorrow while her family reals from the loss and copes in their own ways. Her mother collects needy cats to take care of and her father throws himself into work. No one acknowledges each other's pain, too busy feeling their own. When Jacob walks in, they are forced to work together and both hate it at first. Their romance is sweet and develops organically over time. Birth control is acknowledged and used which is rare. The one mar on it is that Jacob doesn't really share about himself, opting to give fake names and movie plots instead of what really happened to him.

The art therapy is my favorite part of the whole book. At first, everyone is miserable and just going through the motions. This Breakfast Club-esque group of misfits all have their own trauma to deal with. Jacob's filmmaking talent gives each of them the tool to communicate something in a way they never thought of before. Koula apologizes for all the thoughtless, mean things she did when she was drunk or high. Alonzo expresses his journey and pain through mime. Ivan gets to hold a funeral for his mother when he was barred from the original one. Petula made a video archiving her family's life and Maxine's life. When Jacob's secret comes out, everyone is hurt. The ending has everyone on the road to rebuilding and reconciling, but it's not perfect. Petula still has some doubts as one would after being lied to. It's the most realistic representation of a teen relationship I've seen. This book has real emotions and shows different ways of coping with grief and trauma. Optimists Die First is a short, heart punch of a read that I enjoyed.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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