About the Book

Title: Toxic
Published: 2018
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Cover Story: Alan Parrish
BFF Charm: Yay x 2
Talky Talk: She Said, He Said on a Spaceship
Bonus Factors: Artificial Intelligence, Identity, Sucide Squad, STEM Ladies
Relationship Status: Sexy Little Rubik’s Cube

Cover Story: Alan Parrish

In the words of the protagonist of Jumanji, WHAT YEAR IS IT? Because this totally gives me déjà vu of YA covers of yore, back when closeups of flowers and other objects against a dark background was all the rage, thanks to Twilight. Upon closer inspection, at least the backdrop here is outer space. And to be fair, illustrating a bioship might be difficult to get the point across, so SURE. 

The Deal:

Hana’s life is a secret, to all except her mother and Cyclo, the bioship they live on that’s travelling towards an interstellar colony. But one day, everyone else is… gone. The entire crew has evacuated—without Hana, whom nobody even knew existed. Her mother wouldn’t just leave her behind…would she? 

Fenn is on a mission: collect data on why Cyclo is dying, and his sister gets a new lease on life. The same can’t be said for Fenn, however, since his work aboard Cyclo is going to be a one-way trip. But what neither he nor his crew could have anticipated was Hana—and what she might mean for saving the ship and themselves before it’s too late.

BFF Charm: Yay x 2

2 BFF charms

Apparently, clandestine space girls are my jam, because I’ve yet to meet one whom I didn’t love. Although the character whom Hana most reminds me of doesn’t live among the stars, but under the sea; she has Ariel’s mermaid-out-of-water wonderment about everything human, as well as endearing knowledge gaps on customs and idioms that she didn’t pick up on from a lifetime of studying people from afar.

Fenn has made more than his share of mistakes, but like a Big Damn Space Hero, he’s on the path of redemption, whether he thinks he deserves it or not. He’s a little broody, as to be expected of someone who signed up for his own death, but he’s determined to make things right despite being absolutely terrified.  

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

With Hana and Fenn both being cut off from interacting with anyone with romantic potential in a long time—nine months for him, and forever for her—a mutual attraction isn’t entirely surprising. But it’s not just because they’re on a radioactive bioship that it gets HOT IN HERRE. (I mean, it’s also because of that, too.)

Talky Talk: She Said, He Said on a Spaceship

The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Hana and Fenn, set in an indeterminate future with intergalactic travel and populated by humans and humanoids/non-human species alike. As with another of Lydia Kang’s novels that I’ve read, she takes great attention to detail when it comes to science-y shizz. The result is a richly imagined universe, despite the book only taking place in a small corner of it. 

Bonus Factor: Artificial Intelligence

Data the Android from Star Trek: Next Generation

Cyclo isn’t artificial, but her depiction is similar to that of pop culture AI, but, like, benevolent. It’s funny how fiction tends to be so wary of sentient artificial intelligence, when there’s been far more factual evidence of humans being the actual worst. 

Bonus Factor: Identity

Hana’s extremely unique circumstances gives her plenty of fodder for soul-searching. What does it mean to have Korean heritage when you’re detached from the culture? Can you defy personality traits that have been predisposed by genetics? Nature vs. nurture is always a fascinating debate.

Bonus Factor: Suicide Squad

A group of characters from the Suicide Squad movie walk toward the camera

Fenn is part of a small crew on fact-finding mission with no escape plan by design. Each member harbors their own secrets and regrets, as they try to make amends with the people they’re leaving behind. (No one has to wear hotpants, though.)

Bonus Factor: STEM Ladies

Strands of blue DNA

Technically, there’s also a STEM guy (Fenn specializes in nano drones), but most of the characters are STEM ladies, WHAT WHAT. While I understand why science-inclined characters are less common in books, it’s always exciting when they do appear, esp. when they’re competent AF like the ones here. 

Relationship Status: Sexy Little Rubik’s Cube

Trying to figure out a book can sometimes become an exercise in frustration, but unraveling Toxic‘s mysteries landed on the fun end of the spectrum. (There was even a part that made me go “DAAAAAMN!” out loud.) It took me on a strange and wild ride in its souped-up bioship, and it kept me on my toes until the very end.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Entangled Teen. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Toxic is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.