Hanna is bipolar (or, as she prefers to call it, manic-depressive) and sometimes has hallucinations, particularly when she doesn't take her meds. After her father died, she went to live with her aunt. When her aunt decides she needs to be sent to a psych ward, Hanna hits her over the head and runs off to find her mother, who lives in Portero, TX.
Rosalee, Hanna's mother, is not a motherly person. She'd rather Hanna wasn't even near her at all. Eventually, Hanna convinces her to give her a probationary period: if, in a week, Hanna can adapt to life in Portero, fit in, make friends, survive, etc., she can stay. If not, she has to leave.
Hanna is determined to stay, but it's not going to be easy to win the bet she made with her mother. There are lots of ways she doesn't fit in - although it used to be that the biggest thing that set her apart from others (other than her bipolar disorder, although I'm not sure if that developed before or after her father's death) was her mother being black and her father a white Finnish guy, in Portero she's even more different. Everyone calls Hanna a transy (short for "transient") and no one expects her to live long so no one makes an effort to care about her.
Eventually Hanna starts to realize that the weird things she's seeing in Portero aren't just her usual hallucinations - Portero really is crawling with danger, monsters, and general weirdness. In her quest to fit in and win her mother's approval, Hanna makes friends, starts dating and sleeping with a badass Porterene named Wyatt, and kills some monsters. Things start to fall apart, however, when Hanna realizes that something is very wrong with her mother. Afraid that the Mortmaines, Portero's ruthless protectors (of which Wyatt is one), will kill Rosalee, Hanna tries to figure out a way to save her on her own. In the process of doing this, Hanna learns just how far she'll go to protect the people she cares about and figures out how to do things that no one, not even Porterenes, thought was possible.
I've done things a little backwards. Although this is the first of Reeves' Portero books (and her first YA book), I read Slice of Cherry, the second book in the series, first. I don't think this ruined much for me. I probably would have figured out Portero's weirdness wasn't just in Hanna's head fairly quickly on my own, and I liked knowing that Wyatt and Hanna were still together in the next book, because it meant that Bleeding Violet's ending had to be at least a little happy.
While Bleeding Violet didn't resonate with me on as personal a level as Slice of Cherry did, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I found it to be a much more comfortable read. While I might hesitate to recommend Slice of Cherry to someone, I think Bleeding Violet is much more likely to appeal to a broader audience. Although Hanna may be prone to violent behavior, she doesn't set out to kill anyone on purpose - that automatically gives her a few points over Fancy. The Mortmaine tendency towards ruthlessness bothers her, and, although she does terrible things out of a desire to help her mother, her goal is understandable and she doesn't necessarily feel good about the things she does.
I have to admit that, similar to Slice of Cherry, for the longest time I didn't really like any of the characters in Bleeding Violet. Wyatt seemed like a nice enough guy some of the time, but other times he was a stereotypical cold, ruthless Mortmaine, or even just a jerk who was mean to Hanna, a newcomer, for no reason other than that she was new (admittedly, in Portero, being new means you're practically an entirely different species, one that's not worth the effort to get to know). Rosalee was prickly and often seemed unworthy of the Hanna's devotion. Hanna was prickly, too, to a lesser degree. She was also prone to violence, and her incredibly deep devotion to her mother had an uncomfortable tendency to make her mother more important to her than anyone else, including herself.
Then I got to know the characters a bit more. I still didn't always like what they did, but I understood why they did those things, and I could empathize with them. Rosalee's father was a hard man who automatically assumed that her ingrained attractiveness to others meant that she was sleeping around with everyone...which prompted Rosalee to go out of her way to piss him off by doing everything he didn't want her to do. Hanna had grown up knowing about her father's fascination with her mother, and that fascination became such a part of her that, when she finally did meet her mother and literally had nowhere else to go, her mother became her primary focus and reason for existing. Wyatt's family included several ruthless badass types, the sort that others in Portero looked up to - it was a lot for him to live up to, especially since he wasn't always sure that their way was the best way. It also didn't help that Wyatt was forced to keep secrets about himself from everyone, even his friends. Even in a town as weird as Portero, Wyatt, who's not entirely human, is weirder than most.
Even when I still wasn't quite sure I liked any of the characters, I kept reading because of the strange, somewhat surreal world. On her first day of school, Hanna sees people crying about people-shaped glass statues, gets called a "transy," is told she and everyone else must wear earplugs while at school, and is spoken to by the image of a girl on the cover of one of her textbooks. Prior to arriving at Portero, Hanna would hallucinate being able to hear her dead father speaking to her - in Portero, she starts being able to see him, and he can tell her things she doesn't already know and do things for her that she can't do. Swan, Hanna's beloved wooden toy, starts protecting her, even from herself. The line between what's real and what isn't gets really blurry, until finally it just plain disappears.
This was a quick read for me, and, as I reached the end of the book, I couldn't really guess how things were going to turn out. I knew that Hanna and Wyatt were somehow going to still be together, but (slight spoiler) I didn't know how Reeves was going to manage that after Hanna betrayed him. Had the book been set anywhere but Portero, I'm not actually sure Hanna and Wyatt's relationship could have been mended, but Porterenes seem to have a different way of looking at things.
I didn't know if Hanna's mother was going to survive, and I didn't know if she would still be willing to have Hanna around, even if she did survive. Then I sort of forgot all the things I didn't know for a while, and just enjoyed watching all the bits and pieces that had shown up throughout the book suddenly come together to provide Hanna with a completely awesome way to survive, kick butt, and cause really powerful Porterenes' jaws to drop in stunned shock. You have to be open-minded to be a Porterene, but Hanna, whose perception of reality is skewed at best, puts Porterenes to shame.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It didn't shake me up the way Slice of Cherry did, but my reaction to Slice of Cherry wasn't exactly usual for me, and I don't particularly want my recreational reading to shake me up that much. My favorite part of this series is still Portero, and Bleeding Violet gave me even more of that than Slice of Cherry did, a big mark in its favor. Although I may not have liked Bleeding Violet's characters at first, they grew on me. They are almost all messed up in some way, emotionally or mentally, and they have to find a way to pick themselves up and make the most of their situations.
I have to say, Hanna does an amazing job of that. When she first gets to town, her bipolar disorder could be seen as a problem - it causes her to hurt people that she shouldn't, it gives her suicidal thoughts, and makes her hallucinate. In Portero, Hanna gradually becomes amazing in ways she never would have been without her bipolar disorder. I don't think this is supposed to mean that everything about her disorder is good (Swan tries to stop Hanna's suicidal behavior, and one particular incidence of violence on Hanna's part is the cause of many problems later on), but it's also not bad. Reeves seems to enjoy gray areas.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Glass Houses (book) by Rachel Caine - This is the first book in the Morganville Vampires series. I haven't actually read any of this series yet. I added it to this list because of its "supernatural small town Texas" setting and female main character who doesn't quite fit in. Sixteen-year-old Claire Danvers is a math whiz who can start college early, but her parents would like her to spend a couple years at a small college in Morganville, TX first. What Claire and her parents didn't know was that Morganville is controlled by vampires.
- The Summoning (book) by Kelley Armstrong - This is the first book in Armstrong's first YA series, which takes place in the same world as her books for adults. Chloe, a fifteen-year-old high school student, sees the ghost of a dead janitor and completely freaks out. On the insistence of her school's administration, Chloe's father has her sent to Lyle House, a home for troubled teens. Chloe is told she has a mild form of schizophrenia, and she knows her only chance to leave Lyle House is to do what she's told so she can get better. However, Lyle House has a sinister side, and Chloe soon learns that the things she sees may not actually be hallucinations.This isn't anywhere near as gruesome and surreal as Bleeding Violet, but I thought that those who'd like another story featuring a girl who can see things others can't might like this.
- Eureka (live action TV series) - The main character of this series is a federal marshal who becomes the new sheriff of a small, secret town called Eureka, where almost all the residents are genius scientists. The tone of this series is completely different, more humorous than anything, but those who'd like something else featuring a strange small town where it can be kind of hard to fit in and storylines involving parent-child issues (the divorced sheriff trying to connect with his daughter, a mother and her autistic son, etc.) might want to try this.
- The Sandman (graphic novel series) by Neil Gaiman - The first book is the series is called Preludes and Nocturnes. This series focuses mainly on Morpheus, the Sandman, a dark figure who watches over dreams and makes sure they stay separate from reality. One particular volume of the series that may be of interest to those who enjoyed Bleeding Violet is Brief Lives, which devotes a lot of time to Dream's sister Delirium, who is on a quest to find her brother Destruction. I don't recommend reading the series out of order, but, if you do choose to start with Brief Lives, be sure to go back and read the earlier volumes after you're done.