Category Archives: Short Stories

The Poison Eaters by Holly Black

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The Poison Eaters by Holly Black ISBN: 9781931520638

Plot Summary: Enter a world wear fairies live among us. Where all the vampires are kept in a separate part of town called Coldtown. Where people can turn into wolves and back again. Where characters can come to life from books. These are just a few of the worlds that Holly Black presents in her collection of stories. These represent the dark side of the fantastical world, with eerie descriptions of night markets and deaths, lost loves and secret Latin cults. All will pull you into another world and engross you in short but vivid stories about both magical people and the normal ones who live among them.

Critical Evaluation: A collection of short stories is somewhat difficult to evaluate in terms of literary elements. Luckily for us, this short story collection, and in fact many others have a general theme to the pieces included. This collection focuses on fantastical characters and worlds. A short story is difficult to write because the author must establish the setting, characters and plot arc in relatively few pages.  I think that Holly Black achieves this rather admirably. Obviously more time could be spent on each element, but in the space that she has, we see individual complex characters in sometimes disparate, sometimes interconnected worlds. In the case of one of these stories, Black has just expanded it to a full length novel, “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.”

I did wish that the setting could be more fully explored. Generally, we get rather cursory glances at where each story takes place. One in a college town, another in a suburb of New York that is near a forest, others in the past, like at a king’s castle. I do think that she did a good job of containing a plot and transformation for characters in a small amount of time. For the most part, I felt that I had a good understanding of each character’s personality, and how it changes by the end of the story. In some cases, like in “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” or “The Poison Eaters,” the transformation is more marked: Matilda accepts her fate as a vampire, but with a message to tell, and the three sisters rid themselves of their oppressive father, but die in the process.

Reader’s Annotation: These short, fantastical stories might remind you of Grimm’s fairytales, or Twilight. Be prepared for some dark, kinda twisted stories that are fast and fun to read.

Information about the author: Holly Black may be best known for her collaboration with Tony DiTerlizzi on the Spiderwick Chronicles, but most of her books are YA fiction. She has also contributed to several short story collections. Her books have won awards and been on bestseller lists.

She was born in New Jersey in 1971. In 1994, she graduated from The College of New Jersey with a bachelor’s in English. She now lives in Massachusetts with her husband in a house with a secret library.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum ties, if any: Nothing I can think of.

Booktalking Ideas: As I did with my reader’s annotation, I would play off of the fairytale elements of some of these stories. I also think the shortness of each would be appealing to teens who may only want to read one at a time.

Reading Level/Interest Age: Characters in these stories for the most part seem to be older. Some appear to be out of high school, while others are portrayed as slightly younger, though there are few specifics on age. Publisher’s Weekly recommends these stories for ages 14 and up, while School Library Journal considers them for grades 9 and up.

Challenge Issues:

  •  Violence
  • Homosexuality
  • Beings potentially construed as satanic
  • Drug use

Defense Strategy:

  1. First, I would want to be familiar with book. As I’ve read this book, I’d be aware of potential issues that could be challenged. In the case of a book I had not read, I would want to have access to reviews.
  2. Then I would put together a rationale for why this book is included in the collection. This rationale would include:
    • Bibliographic Citation of the book.
    • A description of who the book is best suited for.
    • A summary of the book and applicable other information, such as biographical information about the author.
    • My justification for including the book. This would include how it fits in with the selection policy and library mission statement, and include its educational significance if applicable or the impact it could have on readers.
    • Copy of selection policy and library mission statement at my library.
    • ALA Library Bill of Rights
    • Good and bad reviews of the book
    • Alternative works a student could read
    • Reconsideration form if patron is not satisfied with rationale
  3. When talking to patron, I would listen to their concerns without getting on the defensive and attempt to sympathize with their concerns. In some cases, all an upset patron needs is to be able to vent and know that someone is listening to them.
  4. If needed, I would send the challenge up the chain of command.

I would argue that this collection meets the recreational needs of teens. As these stories take place in a world that is not our own, I don’t think you could argue that teens would adopt any of the habits from the book. The violence is not really glorified nor is the drug use.

Why did you include this book? : I wanted to review a collection of short stories, and this one was recommended to me.

Reference Page:

About Holly (2013). Holly Black Website. Retrieved from http://www.blackholly.com