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Poison Ink by Christopher Golden
Review by Drew Bittner
Delacorte Books for Young Readers Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0385734832
Date: 08 July 2008 List Price $8.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Book's website / Show Official Info /

Sammi and her four best friends are "none of the above" when it comes to defining themselves by their social circle. They get along well enough with everyone -- they aren't outcasts, they aren't the popular girls -- but they fit best with each other.

One night, Letty suggests they design a tattoo and each one gets it inked on their skin to celebrate their closeness. Because they're underage, they would have to go to a place that doesn't worry much about laws -- but Letty has that covered too. A place called Dante's can do the job, she tells them.

And that's when things start to go wrong.

Sammi backs out at the last minute, afraid of what her strict parents would say, but the other four go ahead and get the tattoo. Before long, these four begin to change. They start causing--and looking for--trouble. They quickly turn into bad girls, triggering rumors throughout the school and terrifying Sammi. She tries to stand up to them, but things go badly wrong.

Sammi conceives a desperate plan to save her friends, but she'll have to take some big risks to make it happen...

Christopher Golden has achieved a remarkable feat in Poison Ink, combining adolescent fears of growing up and growing apart (and possibly turning into someone your friends would never recognize) and the fear of losing control over one's worst and most horrific impulses. He portrays the downward spiral of the four tattooed girls, and Sammi's struggle to understand what's gone so badly wrong, with greater intensity by the chapter. Toward the end, the girls are monstrous, capable of any cruelty, and Sammi finds that even love cannot redeem everything.

Sammi is a terrific point of view character--her relative innocence contrasts with the degradation of her friends; this comparison effectively highlights the nightmare she is living. Golden is fantastic at building a character whose happiest times--those spent with her friends--turn into the thing that gives her the most pain.

The girls all have their special qualities, from TQ's casual athleticism to Caryn's and Letty's artistic tendencies to Katsuko's fierce competitive streak. These characteristics are warped by what they become, until there's almost a reluctance to turn the page, lest the reader see what perversions have been made from their special gifts.

This is not a work of "urban fantasy" or "dark fantasy"--no, this book is flat-out old school horror. Much like The Twilight Zone, wherein many classic episodes traded on the implicit horror of losing what one loves, Golden has wrought a tale of adolescence gone astray and friendship put to its ultimate test.

Not a book for those easily dismayed by graphic language (and activities) but...

Recommended.


Our Readers Respond

From: Little Willow:
    I too give POISON INK many kudos. I love how the fears have manifested into true horrors, as the girls become the worst versions of themselves and the mark that bonds them changes them forever.

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