Author: Dia Reeves
Genre: YA/ UF
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: January 2010
Hardcover: 464 pages
Love can be a dangerous thing….Hanna simply wants to be loved. With a head plagued by hallucinations, a medicine cabinet full of pills, and a closet stuffed with frilly, violet dresses, Hanna’s tired of being the outcast, the weird girl, the freak. So she runs away to Portero, Texas in search of a new home.
But Portero is a stranger town than Hanna expects. As she tries to make a place for herself, she discovers dark secrets that would terrify any normal soul. Good thing for Hanna, she’s far from normal. As this crazy girl meets an even crazier town, only two things are certain: Anything can happen and no one is safe.
Stand Alone or series: Stand alone
Why did I read the Book: I saw this around the Internet last year and was intrigued by the blurb.
How did I get the book I requested a review copy from the publisher.
You are not welcome to Portero, Texas, unless you have a thick skin and you are here to stay. With hidden doors that open to other worlds (the Latin word for door: Porta) spread all over town and with all sorts of creatures (like leeches with tentacles for example and ghosts that live in the river and grant wishes if you can manage to breathe underwater enough to make the wish) crawling out or sucking you into them , Portero is definitely Weird Central of America. Its residents have all accepted their reality, living life to the best of their ability, under the Mayor’s authority and the hunters of Mortmaine’s protection. Everybody wears black as to not attract attention except for the Mortmaines who wear bright green; and if you stay long enough you are entitled to a key. This is how you know you belong.
Enter Hanna Jarvinen, first person narrator of this story and one of the most fascinating characters I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Half Finn, Half African American, Hanna is a biracial, bicultural, with bipolar disorder and violent tendencies, prone to hallucinations and who ran away from her aunt’s house before she was sent back to a mental institution. With her Finn father dead (although when she is not taking her pills, she talks to him in her head) all of Hanna’s hopes rest on her mother, Rosalee. Even though she has never seen her mother since she sent her father and her away when she was a baby, she fantasises that Rosalee will not only welcome her but accept her, weirdness and all. All her dreams come crashing down when she arrives in Portero. Rosalee is cold and unwelcoming. She means to send Hanna away, back to her aunt, to the mental institution, anywhere but Portero. She does not want anything to do with Hanna and is absolutely convinced that she will not adapt to the harsh reality of Portero:
“Let me get this straight: You want me to leave because you don’t think I can adapt?”
“I know you can’t”
Was she serious?
I was biracial and bicultural. A walking billboard for adaptation.
As much as Rosalee is unwelcoming, Hanna is unmoving and they are both forces to be reckoned with and so they strike a deal. If Hanna is not freaked out in the first two weeks, she gets to stay with Rosalee. On the very next morning Rosalee sends her to school where she is welcomed by the weirdest happenings and she realises that maybe Portero is weirder than she expected after all. Then, when she fully expected to fit in from day one, after all she was always able to use her looks and her personality to captivate men and women, she is ignored and scorned by the in-crowd lead by Wyatt, a Mortmaine. Hanna is a Transy, a Transient, someone who is just passing by and porterenses are used to see those leaving or dying too soon. But after she witnesses Wyatt using powers he is not supposed to when vanquishing a threat to the school, they become close. Now, Hanna thinks that the perfect way to impress not only the porterenses but above all her mother is to go on a hunt with Wyatt. When she comes back from the hunt, exhilarated, and unscathed, it is when things get really complicated.
Bleeding Violet is one of the best Young Adult novels I have ever read. The writing is lovely, the story is hands down amazing and the characters are everything I could have hoped for. Every time I open a book, I wish for the sort of all-encompassing experience that this book provided me.
I have read several reviews of Bleeding Violet around the internet and most of them focus their attention on how the story is weird , crazy and surreal. Yes, it is. To the point where I would say that the novel would definitely appeal to fans of QuentinTarantino and Vertigo’s graphic novels.
But although Portero is indeed an incredible setting and the situations that happen in this novel are really surreal, to me more than that surrealism, more than anything else what leaps from the pages are how REAL the characters are. Regardless of any gimmicks happening around them, or the way they might react to those situations, Bleeding Violet is extraordinarily realistic at a very basic level.
Take away the doors and the creatures (as fascinating and cool and vivid and creative as they are) and the book is a character-centric novel in which every.single.thing is character-driven. Everything that happens is because of these characters’ emotions and actions. Hanna is the main propeller of the plot, her emotional estate and that of those that surround her is what matter and what is at centre stage here.
Her need for motherly love and acceptance, to fit in start a sequence of events (which in turn re-set something that started a long time ago – but again, THOSE events wore also consequences of deeply felt emotions that converged in one horrible moment in time: greed, grief and fear). The way she speaks, thinks, reacts was …I don’t know. Awesome. I fell in love with Hanna from chapter one. She is so confident but at the same so lost. She has so many issues that need to be addressed and a definite mental illness that needs to be treated.
But Hanna is not the only character who has issues and deeply felt emotions: her mother, as cold as she was, was the result of a horrible childhood. Wyatt, had his own issues with authority and with heritage. This triad of characters and Hanna relationship with both and with herself are the meats and bones of the novel. On the romance side of things, how refreshing and realistic to see a couple starting off as any couple, dating and then having sex (because it is good and natural) sharing a connection and laughter without having to promise to be together- forever- and- ever- amen- because-they-belong-together. It is all the more believable when the two have to work through issues like still having feelings for an ex-girlfriend or not having feelings for any of the guys you had sex before. Or how Hanna sees the world in a confusion of colours and Wyatt tends to see it in black and white.
There are so many threads intertwined in the novel: deception, greed, power, sadness, death, acceptance, what is like to be biracial, what is like to be compassionate when you need to be ruthless, what is like to be young and have new ideas in the face of Tradition, what is like to love a mother who does not love you back. And it makes for a memorable, unique, fascinating, unapologetic, profoundly moving story.
Be aware though that this not a wholesome story. It is dark, gory, sensual, and violent. There are no definite, clear cut, simple answers. And it is certainly not for the squeamish ones: mental illness, teenage sex, a suicide attempt are present as well as moral ambiguity and not a few violent scenes.
I think it is testament to this writer’s ability (and perhaps fondness for her characters) that in spite of all the aforementioned violence and darkness, Bleeding Violent ends on a definite, unmistakable and believable high note. And as of now, this book has a secure spot on my top reads of 2010.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: My copy is replete with earmarks. I picked these two sequences as they contain the least spoilers at the same time that they reveal a lot about Hanna. The first shows how Hanna is weird in her way of looking at things. The other is an interaction between her and Wyatt.
“It wasn’t made for you. Don’t you dare get attached to that room.”
“You said I could stay”
“For two weeks and that’s -” Her spoon clattered to the floor.”You took my armoire?”
“I needed a place to store my clothes.”
“I had all my books in that armoire!”
“I saw.” Hundreds of books, several in German and Dutch, and endless stacks of bound manuscripts had crammed the armoire; I’d sweated through my chemise removing them all.
“I stacked them neatly on the floor,” I said, so she wouldn’t think I was a slob.
Rosalee pushed away from the table, chair legs squealing angrily against the tile. I thought she was going to go into her office to see what I’d done with her books, but she went up to my room instead and she did a slow 360-degree turn.
“Why is everything purple?”
“It was Poppa’s favorite color.”
“You painted my armoire purple!”
“It would have clashed otherwise.” she was making me feel like I’d murdered her best friend. “Why don’t we go finish that stew, hmmm? Before it congeals?”
What a freak! What an amazing and marvelous freak!
Hope brightened his face as he studied my expression. “You don’t think it’s weird?”
“It’s beyond weird,” I assured him breathlessly. “Beyond cool, even.”
“Only another weirdo would think that was cool.”
“Bullshit. What’s weird about you?” He looked me over. “Besides your fixation with purple.”
“It doesn’t matter. Compared to what you can do, I’m boringly normal. So what are you?”
He put his half-finished sandwich on the tray as though he’d lost his appetite. I thought about what I’d said and immediately felt bad.
“I’m sorry. I can’t believe I asked you that. I hate it when people ask me that.”
He lifted his eyebrows, bemused.”Why would they ask you?”
“Because I’m biracial. People look at me and can’t figure me out, so they ask, `what are you?` Like I’m a whole other species. But you…are you another species?”
He did some more thinking. “You had to accept a lot today. I don’t wanna blow your mind.”
“It’s already blown”
“You think it is. I could vaporise it if I wanted to. But I don’t. Especially now that you know about me. And it doesn’t bother you.”
He crossed his legs in front of my feet, leaned forward, and rested his chin on my bare knee. The underside of his chin was sweaty, but I didn’t push him away; he was so cute, like a little boy, looking up at me. The late afternoon sun burned in his eyes, letting me see all the way inside him, but not in a spooky lure way. This was something else.
I also URGE you to go here and read the first chapter. It is AWESOME. And it got me hooked as soon as I finished reading it.
Additional Thoughts: Following the recent fiasco with the Whitewashed cover of Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore it is great to see a beautiful, accurate cover such as this. Kudos to Simon Pulse.
And as Bleeding Violet was written by a POC and has a POC as a main character, I am counting the book as my first entry in the POC Reading challenge!
And on a side note: Dia Reeves is writing another book set in Portero, Yay! I simply cannot wait. The potential, folks. THE POTENTIAL.
Verdict: A memorable, extremely well-written, character-driven novel with a fascinating and appealing narrator, against the backdrop of a surreal story. Dia Reeves debuts with a bang: a story that is certainly not for everyone but for those who dare, a guaranteed poignant, different, unique experience. Highly, HIGHLY recommended.
Rating: 10. A resounding one with a standing ovation – what else? This may not be a perfect book for everyone, but is certainly, a perfect book, a perfect fit for me.
Reading Next: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin