A Beautiful Poison by Lydia KangPublished by Lake Union Publishing on August 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
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Just beyond the Gilded Age, in the mist-covered streets of New York, the deadly Spanish influenza ripples through the city. But with so many victims in her close circle, young socialite Allene questions if the flu is really to blame. All appear to have been poisoned—and every death was accompanied by a mysterious note.
Desperate for answers and dreading her own engagement to a wealthy gentleman, Allene returns to her passion for scientific discovery and recruits her long-lost friends, Jasper and Birdie, for help. The investigation brings her closer to Jasper, an apprentice medical examiner at Bellevue Hospital who still holds her heart, and offers the delicate Birdie a last-ditch chance to find a safe haven before her fragile health fails.
As more of their friends and family die, alliances shift, lives become entangled, and the three begin to suspect everyone—even each other. As they race to find the culprit, Allene, Birdie, and Jasper must once again trust each other, before one of them becomes the next victim.
Allene had spent far too much time at cemeteries this year...
Allene, Jasper and Birdie. Three young people, on the brink of a draft, a murder and revenge.
The book is slow, almost too slow for me. I almost put it down a couple of times, but by the end the payoff was very satisfactory. It’s one of those books that shuffles along, trying to figure out everyone motive and who could it be, but in the end, the big reveal had nothing to do with how they died but why they died.
Kang’s world of WWI era sparkles and glittery age is mesmerizing, stepping into Allene’s expensive shoes. The grey area really centers around Jasper, working class and now out of favor with the rich and Birdie, swimming in scandal and suddenly thrust back into her best friend and her feared enemy’s home.
The best part about the book was the time period. I found myself fully immersed in Kang’s world, especially as I already knew about the Radium Girls. I really liked how the historical accuracy of events played so much into the plot of the story, adding red herrings here and there. (The influenza is especially horrific and I will be reading more on that later on.) The other thing I liked so much about the story is how Kang doesn’t shy away from adult themes and hurtful situations. There’s abuse in many forms, sexual and mental, as well as scandal, prostitution. It’s not added in lightly or superfluous, rather it is perfectly pitched into the story to add great levity and enhance the story and the protagonists’ world.
The book is well thought out, but because the pacing was slow, I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish it. This is a good one for people who like a rich setting and a slow burn of a plot. It’s not for everyone, but I found it to be very rewarding.