Genre:Fantasy, paranormal YA fiction
A long time ago, I read "Slice of Cherry" and the cover of that book brought forth such a visceral reaction that I just had to buy this book last week. "Slice of Cherry" was every bit as weird and unsettling as this book. Reeves was able to hit it out of the park twice. The relationship between the sisters in "Slice of Cherry" and the relationship between the mother and daughter in "Bleeding Violet" are so complex, compelling and unmistakably familiar in the most disturbing way.
Wow, what a cliffhanger to round off chapter one, and it only gets crazier from there. The main character, Hanna, is mysterious not only to her estranged mother but to the reader as well.
Hanna identifies herself as biracial, bicultural and bipolar. That’s a recipe for displacement for anyone, especially someone whose father has just passed away. She’s bold, optimistic and has a hyper-fixation with purple. A fixation which begins to make narrative sense once Hanna realizes that all of the townspeople of Portero, Texas only wear black. She notes that it looks like a perpetual funeral. However, her love interest Wyatt, is part of an elite monster-hunting group that wears green. Not to mention that Hannah’s mother Rosalee, loves the color red.
On Hanna’s first quasi-monster-hunt, she encounters a decomposing man named Melissa who has a woman’s voice. That sentence is a lot, I know. But, even though this chapter is about possession, it really bothered me as an LGBT reader, to see that the author put windowpane ghouls, cannibals and poltergeists on par with a non-gender-conforming character. Sure, it turned out that Melissa was really the spirit who was speaking through the body of a man named Bob. But, to act as if a high-pitched voice and a typically female name for a person who appeared to be male was as strange as the rest, really rubbed me the wrong way.
However, the dialogue in this book pulls absolutely no punches. When 16-year-old Hanna tells her mother that she’s decided to sleep with a boy she’d just met, Rosalee (sarcastically) handed Hanna a box of condoms and said, “Need anything else? Lube? Instruction? Handcuffs?” I have never read a Young Adult novel that was so not YA. Sure, there’s the cute butterflies in Hannah’s stomachs and jealousy toward Wyatt’s ex-girlfriend, but there’s also suicide, murder and plenty of gore.
Throughout the novel, most of the characters claim that it’s just a “weird town.” Many townspeople refuse to believe in the existence of magic, yet invisible teleportation doors open up along alleyways, lattes turn to blood and there are giant maggot worms in the milk supply.
About a quarter of the way through, I was prepared to call the copyright police. I was very strongly reminded of the podcast "Nightvale." Things seem crazy to the readers but the most profane occurrences can become mundane if they happen frequently enough. To readers, it's exciting and chaotic to find that one of the main characters is newly possessed. To the main characters it’s as mildly inconvenient as a flat tire. But it wasn’t until the mayor of Portero appeared that the similarities between "Bleeding Violet" and "Nightvale" became too much. The mayor in both stories is an all-powerful woman with the ability to resurrect, imprison and decimate any living thing. Where Portero has the “dark park,” Nightvale has the forbidden “dog park.” But the podcast that I’ve been a fan of for the past eight years didn’t actually precede this 2010 novel.
Once I arrived at the killer stick figures with beating hearts that must be snatched from inside their chests, the story falls apart. It’s fast-paced but too nonsensical to make me truly excited to witness the grand finale. The ending was a bit cheesy and ultimately unfulfilling. I like to see past the “end of the battle” daze. It would’ve rounded some of the sharp edges and answered several questions if Reeves had given the readers an idea of life post-possession. Wyatt continuing to improve on his scientific magic, Rosalee learning how to love without losing herself and Hanna finally leaning into the emotion she’d claimed to be incapable of feeling.
CW: self-harm, suicide, manic-depression, rape, murder, gore, spirit possession, torture, explicit intimacy