Pamela Isley is a loner who loves plants. So much so that she releases a gas (toxic to humans, not plants, of course) in a local park in an effort to stop it from being bulldozed and constructed over. A few people get seriously sick, and residents in the surrounding area need to evacuate. This leads one of Pamela’s classmates, Alice Oh, to stay temporarily with Pamela and her father. Though Pamela would rather hang out in the greenhouse her mother donated to her high school than with her peers, Alice is all right. She’s helped Pamela avoid Brett, a guy at school who bothers her. However, Pamela isn’t sure she can trust Alice; especially with the family secrets she and her father keep. As she and Alice get closer, as more than friends, can Pamela open up?
This is a perfect pre-Halloween read. The overall tone is dark, gothic, and creepy. Most of the story takes place in the Victorian Isley mansion, or in settings surrounded by plants. Readers who know that Pamela eventually becomes Poison Ivy will be interested in this origin story, but horror and suspense fans will find plenty to appreciate as well. Pamela’s honest struggles to open up and do the right thing in this story juxtaposed against the knowledge of who she eventually becomes is what makes this read so tense.
What was most interesting to me was the seamless inclusion of feminism into Pamela’s character. She states more than once throughout the book that she has had enough of men controlling her body. It fits within the context of the story (that I can’t go into for spoiler reasons), but also is interesting given the history of the character as a femme fatale who uses her womanly charms to get what she wants. A teenage Pamela standing up for herself, specifically to stop men from taking advantage of her body, added a depth to her character that I hadn’t realized was missing until now. I had good timing reading this shortly after the new abortion laws being passed in Texas (though admittedly, Pamela takes “my body, my choice” to the extreme here!).
Contributing to the suspenseful atmosphere are the murky, muted colors and low lighting in the art. Pamela’s red hair is the brightest thing on most pages, but not by much. The linework is sharp and thin, evoking the titular thorns and reminding readers that no one person or place is safe.
Though you’ll come for the perfectly creepy atmosphere and art, you’ll stay for this queer and feminist representation of Pamela Isley becomes Poison Ivy. Add it to your TBR pile this October!
Keplinger, Kody and Sarah Kipin. Poison Ivy: Thorns. 2021.