Bleeding Violet

Bleeding Violet by Dia ReevesBy Dia Reeves [LibraryThingGoodreads]

All Hanna wants is for her mom to love her. Never mind that she’s never met her mom, never mind that she’s got a slew of mental health problems and even more pills, never mind that she still hears her dead father’s voice. She forces herself into her mom’s small-town life — only to find that Portero, the town, is even crazier than she is. But somehow, a town full of missing persons signs, hidden doors, and killer monsters is exactly what Hanna needs to fit in, because Portero might be crazy, but Hanna is crazier.

(FYI: “crazy” is the book’s word, not mine. A lot of this review is about ableism and mental health, so I wanted to make that clear up front.)

Mild spoilers uncovered beneath the cut.
I gobbled this book up, reading it in a day. It’s weird and dark and gory, but compelling as heck. But it’s also got some serious problems.

For me, the biggest issue in the book is mental health. Hanna, we’re told, has a slew of mental health problems; the most recently diagnosed is manic depression (she prefers that term to bipolar), but she’s also dealt with anxiety, ADD, and many many others in her life. That’s all fine, as far as I’m concerned. My issue is that we meet Hanna shortly after she’s blithely murdered her aunt. Okay — so it turns out her aunt survived, but regardless, Hanna smashed her over the head and left, not caring at all, but she promises her mother she’d never do that to her. So I’d just like to say upfront that the linking of mental health problems with violence really bothers me. It’s been in the media a lot recently, as Jared Lee Loughner (alleged Arizona shooter) has been presumed to be skizophrenic, leading to a lot of ableist assumptions that mental illness was the cause of his violence. The linking of mental illness to violence is unfair and inaccurate, so starting off the book with a character basically saying, “Hi, I suffer from manic depression, and also I kill people, and I have no remorse about it!” really, really bothers me.

Aside from what I felt was an ableist issue with the set up, I also didn’t buy into Hanna’s mental illnesses because several people in my life have dealt with severe depression, anxiety, and yup, manic depression. Warm, wonderful, creative people who I adore. Mental health, for some of them (from what I’ve seen as a friend), has often been a struggle — not just in the “how do I cope and get better,” sense, though that’s a huge part of it, but also in the, “I hate the person this makes me, and I hate the way this affects people who care about me,” sense. It’s not something they shrug off or embrace or just don’t care about; coping with mental illness is a huge part of their lives. Hanna… not so much. I know that people experience things differently and react differently; some people will want to go on medications, some won’t, some will have a harder time coming to terms with their mental health, some will resist the idea of having a mental health issue at all. But Hanna wasn’t resisting her diagnosis, or coming to terms, or struggling in any way. She was fully aware of it, and just didn’t care. Not about how it affected her, or the people around her. Basically, what struck me was this: Hanna didn’t seem like someone dealing with manic depression, she seemed like a sociopath. No empathy or regard for people around her (or ability to connect to them, at least in the first half of the book); poor behavior control, disregard for safety, and on and on.

I feel like a lot of the decisions in the book about Hanna’s mental health were made to give it a “hook” — a “crazy” protag, and the eventual reveal that things Hanna has hallucinated in the past are real once she gets to Portero. It also seemed like some set up that was never carried through — at first, Hanna questions whether some of the things she sees are real, with hints that her mental health issues are causing her to hallucinate a lot of Portero’s oddities. It seemed like a setup for an unreliable narrator, akin to Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, but that all sort of fizzled out. It was actually pretty straight forward: whatever problems Hanna may have, it’s actually just that Portero is full of monsters and strange happenings, and everything is real.

Which brings me to what I really liked about the book: Portero. This weird little town reminds me of a darker, more adult Eerie, Indiana. We never find out why it’s so full of monsters and doors and keys (or why they seem confined to Portero), but I’m actually okay with that. Not knowing didn’t bother me, and though I hope there’s a rich backstory that will be explained in Reeves’ next book, I don’t feel like Bleeding Violet was lacking because of it. Similarly, though I’d liked to have learned more about the Mortmaine, the town’s protectors and monster fighters, I don’t think that was necessary, either. I really enjoyed the book’s setting, and found it deliciously creepy and incredibly intriguing. I’m not particularly into urban fantasy, but I really enjoyed this.

In terms of characters, there were only a few who were really developed — Hanna, obviously; Rosalee, her extremely cold mother; and Wyatt. I really loved Wyatt: he’s a Mortmaine initiate who’s driven by an urge to help people. The Mortmaine help in a grander sense but are very rigid about when and how they step in. Wyatt just wants to help, period. He experiments with new styles of fighting that the Mortmaine frown on, he helps people the Mortmaine turn their backs on. Out of everyone in the book, Wyatt is the only one I’d like to be friends with in real life, and I think he was very well done (especially his big turning point moment, which I won’t spoil for you).

Some other, smaller points: the book had a minor pacing issue. It didn’t exactly drag, but the actual plot doesn’t come into play until page 274 (of 454, hardcover edition). That’s… a lot of set up. I was disappointed when the Mayor finally appeared, since she was set up to be Serious Chief Badass, but was actually pretty easily overcome by our protagonists. It also felt a little edgy-for-the-sake-of-edgy. I wasn’t bothered by the sex or the gore, but it was very in your face, screaming, “Look! Sex! Gore! For teenagers!!!”

Overall… I’m not quite sure how I feel about this book. I loved it the moment I finished it, but have found it a lot more flawed since stepping back and thinking about it. (Not that I can’t love a flawed book, of course.) It’s got compelling prose and a bunch of great concepts, but also enough serous flaws that jump out with less than 24 hours of distance. However, I do plan to pick up Slice of Cherry (a non-sequel, but also set in Portero) when it comes out, so I think I’ll give this one three cupcakes and call it a day.


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