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A COVID Inspired Fantasy Book That Reminds Me of The Giver? (The Poison Season book review)

GENRE: YA Fantasy LENGTH: 390 pages
Leelo lives on the island of Endla where her magical people are kept safe from the outsiders who want to harm them by a living forest and a poisonous lake. One day, Leelo breaks the island's rules by saving the life of an outsider, Jaren.

Leelo and her cousin Sage’s relationship reminded me so much of that between Ailesse and Sabine from Kathryn Purdie's book Bone Crier’s Moon. Leelo is the softer, more kindhearted character like Sabine while Sage is the more fierce, overprotective counterpart in the sisterhood like Ailesse. That being said, unlike with Ailesse and Sabine I didn’t fully believe in the bond between Leelo and Sage. I know one doesn’t always like their family but I wasn’t even sure they loved each other at times and if they did then that love was too toxic for me.
Leelo and Jaren’s romance, meanwhile, isn’t burning with chemistry but it does have this soft, naïve sweetness of first love. They’re very cute together.
Leelo herself also reminded me of Jonas from Lois Lowry’s The Giver. I’ll get more into the similarities I found to said novel in the next section. To sum it up, though, Leelo, like Jonas, is a character whose journey is one of shedding her naiveté.

The novel is told from the dual perspectives of Leelo and Jaren. It is a slow paced, character rather than plot driven novel. It’s a standalone story which are always great for people just dipping their toes into the fantasy genre.
Also good for those fantasy newbies, the world building is pretty simple. The author mentions that the story was written during COVID and that inspired the small, insular world of the island of Endla on which the novel primarily takes place. We get snippets of the Endlan’s history and a basic understanding of their song magic, but neither is explored too in-depth. So, if you’re intimidated by fantasy because of the sometimes vast worlds and complex magic systems then this is the perfect way to get acquainted with the genre and not be overwhelmed.
Outside of the Leelo-Jonas comparisons there were two main reasons I think this book reads like a fantasy version of The Giver (which is dystopian). The first, smaller reason, is there is a sentient, sinister forest reminiscent of that from The Giver’s sequel, Messenger. The biggest reason was how we are presented with this seemingly perfect world that slowly unravels has dark secrets are revealed. If you like those themes present in Lowry’s book then I definitely recommend checking this book out.

This isn’t typically my type of fantasy. I’m typically much more drawn to plot driven tales with higher stakes and more intricate world building. However, given The Giver is my favorite book of all time I was happy to find a comparable story. I am also pleased to have another beginner fantasy book to recommend! Not to mention sometimes having a lighter fantasy read like this can be a nice reprieve from my usual fantasy reads.

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