Author: Lydia Kang
Genres: Science fiction, Romance, Horror
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Review Copy: eARC received from publisher
Availability: November 6, 2018
Summary: Hana isn’t supposed to exist. She’s grown up hidden by her mother in a secret room of the bioship Cyclo until the day her mother is simply gone―along with the entire crew. Cyclo tells her she was abandoned, but she’s certain her mother wouldn’t leave her there to die. And Hana isn’t ready to die yet. She’s never really had a chance to live.
Fenn is supposed to die. He and a crew of hired mercenaries are there to monitor Cyclo as she expires, and the payment for the suicide mission will mean Fenn’s sister is able to live. But when he meets Hana, he’s not sure how to save them both.
As Cyclo grows sicker by the day, they unearth more secrets about the ship and the crew. But the more time they spend together, the more Hana and Fenn realize that falling for each other is what could ultimately kill them both.
Review: (Content warning for graphic violence/gore.)
One of my favorite things to add to science fiction is a healthy dose of horror, and Lydia Kang delivers with her newest work, Toxic. The situation aboard Cyclo starts out rather grim, what with Hana waking up to find her mother vanished and her entire universe empty, and it only gets worse when Fenn and the other mercenaries show up with their one-way mission. Things are bad enough when they have a countdown clock to when Cyclo will become unlivable—and then things get so much worse. While I was able to guess one of the key plot points significantly sooner than the characters, that did little to undermine the tension I felt while Hana, Fenn, and the others tried to figure out exactly what was going on. Kang did a great job of crafting characters I cared about and then constantly upping the stakes for their survival.
My favorite character was definitely Hana. I have a fondness for characters whose main arcs are stepping into a larger world, and that is literally Hana. Kang spent a lot of time exploring how weird and even terrifying it was for Hana to go from a world of just her mother and the bioship to a crew of people who all carry serious secrets of their own. I loved Hana’s curiosity, bravery, and determination, and I especially enjoyed how Kang described the bond between Hana and Cyclo. Hana’s bond with her vanished mother was told in memories, but it was no less strong for it, though I particularly enjoyed the questions surrounding the morality of Hana’s mother’s decisions.
Even though Hana and Fenn’s relationship progressed at lightning speed (a countdown to death will do that for you), I was fully invested in it. One of my favorite scenes was early on in the book—I won’t spoil it, but it involved panic and danger and a demonstration of trust, and I knew then that I would enjoy rooting for the two of them. The way their trust in each other and attraction to one another is built was satisfying for me—and it helps, too, that they acknowledged just how much of a whirlwind it all was for them, too. Particularly Hana, who had never had any kind of relationship with anyone beyond her mother and Cyclo.
By the time I finished Toxic, I wanted more of this universe and these characters, and I feel like that’s a great place to be. While I have some general nitpicking and things I wish had been catered more toward my personal taste, Toxic was a great addition to the YA science-fiction world. You should consider picking up a copy.
Recommendation: Get it soon. Toxic is a fun science fiction/horror adventure with engaging characters and a race against the clock. Its whirlwind romance is entertaining, but I was mostly drawn to the heroine, Hana, and her introduction to a much wider world. If you like science fiction, you should definitely give this one a shot.
Teen Read Week 2018: Author Chat with Lydia Kang (Toxic), Plus Giveaway!