This Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron
Briseis has a gift: she can grow entire plants from next to nothing. It’s a gift she’s had to tamp down and keep secret, because plants like her and she doesn’t want another Incident to happen. She’s down for chilling through a quiet summer in the city—working at her moms’ flower shop, enjoying life in Brooklyn, and ignoring the way her best friend has been ghosting her. Until a lawyer shows up and tells Bri that her aunt—the sister of Bri’s birthmom—passed away and left Bri an entire estate in upstate New York. With a little trepidation, Bri and her parents head north. But weird shit is happening, the people seem to expect something from Bri, and there’s a garden filled with poison plants only she can enter. Something strange is about to go down, and it’s up to Bri to figure out the secrets of her birth family before it’s too late.
When we pull into the town of Rhinebeck, the closing cords of the final song played out. Mom sobbed through Eliza’s farewell as Mo dramatically held her hand like she was the actual sad ghost of Alexander Hamilton, with my dying of embarrassment in the back seat. “What key are y’all singing in?” I asked.
“It’s in B-Quiet,” Mo said, turning to Mom.
How do you explain perfection in a sentence?
Easy: This Poison Heart.
There is so very much jam-packed into this nearly 400-page book, and I ate up every single sentence like I would die without another word of Bri, her moms, and the weirdness and magic. There’s Greek mythology mixed with racism and micro-aggressions, mystery and magic, and enough jump scares to rival Get Out. Throughout it all, however, are Bri and her moms, and never have I ever wanted to befriend two women more (Mo and Mom, not Bri, who is a literal child despite being smart as hell).
“Let’s keep moving and come back to it later,” suggested Mo.
“Seriously?” I asked. “Mo, that’s how you miss the room that used to be a morgue or whatever and then, boom—we’re all possessed by demons.”
“Would you stop with the possession stuff?” Mom said, gripping Mo’s arm.
“Don’t worry, babe,” Mo said, shooting her a devilish grin. “I’ll protect you.”
“How?” Mom asked. “How you gonna protect me from a ghost?”
Seriously. For all that I loved Bri, her moms stole every single scene they were in. All of my highlighted quotes are about them. They were the perfect pair, a team dedicated in raising their daughter and managing their business and living, as hard as it was, with the rent being raised and their business not doing as well as they wanted. And I loved how they wanted to protect Bri, even when that protectiveness was a little smothering and bewildered by Bri’s ability with plants. And, of course, I really liked how they approached the whole going to a possibly haunted mansion owned by Bri’s birth family in an all-white town in upstate New York. Which made the ending even more heartwrenching, and why I need book two right now.
Anywho, there’s a lot going on in this book, but the prose kicks ass and I loved how everything wove together in this mystery, and how the twists and turns came even when I wasn’t entirely expecting them to come. I wasn’t quite expecting the bad guy to be the bad guy, and that made it ever more thrilling, particularly when I’ve been having such a hard time being wowed by YA fantasy recently.
This has a lot of the common tropes—the boy (although it’s like as a friend not love), the Chosen One, the magical powers no one else has, mysterious family, mythological creatures and people, the main character gaining independence/agency, and more—and yet the way Bayron subverts and twists each one into something new is just so fantastic.
And throughout everything, there is the sense of family, and a queer wholesomeness that just made my heart sing.
This is another review where I went and talked about my feelings instead of what the book is about—look, it’s relatively simple: girl has magical ability to grow plants and an affinity for the most poisonous plants of all, inherits a mysterious mansion from her dead, mysterious aunt, goes to investigate and finds that her family is integral to the community and that things aren’t what she’s been told, plus there’s a lot of mythological stuff and weirdness and possibly magic and also the expectation of labor from Black families to provide for white people.
So I will leave you final quote, again of how impossible parents can be—and how fucking delicious ice cream is.
The thought of being able to complete my wash-day routine in peace made me deliriously happy. Back home, Mom always seemed to have a craving for ice cram right in the middle of my twist out, knowing she’s been lactose intolerant her entire life, and knowing we all had to share the single bathroom.
Some things in life are just worth suffering for.
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.