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REVIEW: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

Bleeding Violet by Dia ReevesDear Ms. Reeves,

I was casually perusing the Book Smugglers' blog when I came across this midyear list of their favorite books of 2010 and saw that Ana had given your debut, Bleeding Violet a grade of perfect 10.

Since the book's genre (YA with a paranormal flavor) is one I enjoy, I looked up Ana's review of Bleeding Violet. The book sounded unusual and well-written, and perfect 10's are a rare event on the Book Smugglers' blog, so I thought I'd give it a try. I downloaded Bleeding Violet from the Sony store to my ebook reader, began to read, and found myself engaged almost immediately.

The truck driver let me off on Lamartine, on the odd side of the street. I felt odd too, standing in the town where my mother lived. For the first seven years of my life, we hadn't even lived on the same continent, and now she waited only a few houses away.

Sixteen year old Hanna Jarvinen arrives in Portero, Texas to reunite with her mother, who isn't expecting her. The town of Portero isn't in any way normal, but then Hanna doesn't feel normal, either. She's not only biracial and bicultural (half African American and half Finn), but also bipolar.

As she approaches her mother's house, Hanna hallucinates her deceased father's voice coaching her on how to deal with her mother. Hanna's mother, Rosalee Price, left Hanna with her father in Finland shortly after Hanna's birth, and Hanna has no memories of Rosalee. But the voice of Hanna's father, Joosef, warns Hanna not to wake her sleeping mother by knocking on her door in the middle of the night.

So, after finding the spare key and letting herself into Rosalee's house, Hanna follows her father's advice to lure Rosalee out of her bedroom with the scent of a grilled cheese sandwich.

My grandma Annikki once told me that anyone who looked on the face of God would instantly fall over dead. Looking at my mother-’for the first time ever-’I wondered if it was because God was beautiful.

To Hanna, who did not resemble her Finnish relatives, Rosalee, who looks much like her, is beyond beautiful. Hanna wants nothing more than her mother's approval and love.

But Rosalee is not pleased to find her daughter in her kitchen instead of in Finland. As she learns that Hanna and her father came to the United States nine years earlier, and that in the last year, Hanna's father passed away, Rosalee notices the bloodstains on Hanna's clothes.

It turns out that Hanna struck her aunt Ulla, with whom she had been living, on her head with a rolling pin during an argument over whether Hanna should be committed to a mental health facility. And that discovery is how Rosalee learns that her teenaged daughter hears voices and is prone to violence.

While Rosalee tries to ascertain just how badly Ulla was injured, Hanna settles into the attic and unpacks her wardrobe of violet dresses. Hanna sews her own clothes, and she is going through a purple phase.

Rosalee does not want Hanna to move in, but Hanna digs in her heels and refuses to leave. And so, Hanna and Rosalee strike a bargain: if Hanna can fit in at Portero's high school and in the town within two weeks, she can remain in Rosalee's house. If not, she will leave.

Hanna is elated and determined to make friends and stay, but there's only one problem: she has never fit in anywhere.

Still, Portero is not anywhere. When Hanna goes to the school, she discovers that it is a very strange place, one where glass statues shaped like students get more attention than newcomers, where nearly everyone wears black clothes and uses earplugs for some mysterious reason, and where Hanna's geometry textbook turns into "A Teen's Guide to Living with Bipolar Disorder" with multiple choice questions like this one:

12. All work and no play makes Hanna ____________.
a. eat Cheerios c. go crazy
b. limp awkwardly d. very sad

At first Hanna thinks she's hallucinating, but then she begins to suspect that that's not exactly the case. The other students refer to Hanna as a "transy," and after school, Hanna asks her mother what the word means.

"A transient." She grabbed an apple for herself and leaned against the picture window, since she couldn't sit with me at the table. "Anything transient. Like a mayfly."

I knew about mayflies, had seen them in action during the slow summers at our lake house in Finland. Huge swarms of them rising like dark mist from the lakes, mating in the air in winged orgiastic abandon, only to flutter back down into the water, drained. Dead. An entire lifetime played out in the space of a few hours.

But what the hell was mayflylike about me?

Since the students treat Hanna with indifference, she decides the quickest way to gain acceptance is to attach herself to a popular boy. The best candidate appears to be Wyatt Ortiga. Unlike everyone else, Wyatt dresses in green. Students seem to hang on his every word. And Hanna finds him attractive, if annoying at times.

As Hanna gets to know him better, she discovers that Wyatt is as far from normal as she is, and that he is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend, Petra. But that doesn't stop Hanna from pursuing him. And Petra, who doesn't seem to be entirely over Wyatt herself, does not discourage this.

Petra grabbed my shoulders, leaning on me again, but this time so she could whisper in my ear. "Do yourself a favor and find someone tough, someone like Wyatt, who'll look after you. You'll thank me." She let me go and rushed off to join Lecy.

Someone tough to look after me?

Petra seemed like a nice girl, not quite the bitch I'd been expecting, but even if I'd wanted to be her friend, her attitude would drive me insane. Did she think this was the fifies? I didn't need some guy to look after me. I could look after myself.

The more Hanna discovers about how dangerous Portero can be, the more determined she is to face its threats head-on. And that means becoming more and more involved with Wyatt, who knows more about those dangers than any other kid in Portero.

Hanna's goal is to win the right to stay with her mother, and more than that, to win Rosalee's love. But with threats abounding from sources both supernatural and natural, what will she discover about Portero, about Wyatt, about Rosalee, and about herself in the process?

Bleeding Violet is one of the freshest and most original books I have read this year. I don't want to reveal too much of what is going on in the story, but the world-building is startling and surreal, and some scenes have a dreamlike, hallucinatory quality.

But as great as the world-building was, what I liked even more was the writing and the characterization. The dialogue was exceptional – snappy, surprising and real, while the narration was full of the contradictions that make Hanna such an interesting character.

Yes, the girl may be prickly, even pugnacious, and she's not above using her boyfriend, but her need for love and her determination to attain respect and acceptance made her indelibly appealing to me.

Hanna's relationship with Wyatt stands out from many of the teen romances I've come across because the two jump into bed pretty quickly. One of the things that impressed me was how much I liked Wyatt despite his difficulty in getting over Petra even after he was sleeping with Hanna. There was decency and goodness in Wyatt that Hanna sensed from the first but which he could not see in himself.

Rosalee was also a memorable character – seemingly cold in her constant rejection of her daughter, but more complex than she appears at first. And many of the side characters stand out too, from Wyatt's fierce mother to the insecure Petra to the objects that should have been inanimate but came to life and acquired a personality.

I have very few criticisms of this book. Although the portrayal of Hanna's illness did not seem realistic to me at first, I quickly realized that that was because of the book's surreal quality. I do feel that at one point, during the ramp up to the book's climax, the supernatural goings on overwhelmed the human conflicts a bit, but that problem quickly righted itself.

Besides that, I have just one gripe, and that is that not about the book itself, but about the typesetting for the electronic edition I read. As mentioned before, I purchased the book from the Sony store, and my copy was peppered with question marks in places where I think there should have been dashes.

But those minor caveats aside, I enjoyed Bleeding Violet enormously. Original, quirky, suspenseful, occasionally funny, romantic, and dramatic – it was all these things and more. A for this one.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

Book Link | Kindle | Amazon | nook | BN | Borders
| Sony | Kobo |

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

16 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention REVIEW: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 13:12:39

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shirin Dubbin, dearauthor. dearauthor said: New post: REVIEW: Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves http://bit.ly/ajNO1z [...]

  2. Janine
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 13:25:45

    I want to add, outside of the body of the review, that it’s also great to see a YA cover with a minority member protagonist that isn’t whitewashed.

    ReplyReply

  3. Angie
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 13:48:53

    *sigh* Janine. You are not helping. Ana from The Book Smugglers has been trying to get me to read this one for ages now and I’ve been holding off. Your review is really making it difficult for me to not run out and buy it right now.

    Great review.

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  4. Janine
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 13:57:43

    @Angie: I advise listening to Ana on this one! (Although it might be better to buy the paper version due to the typesetting issues I ran into with the e-book.)

    This book is awesome and I’m not sure I did justice to it in this review. I would have said it was the most original book I’ve read in years if I hadn’t read Carolyn Crane’s Mind Games which is equally original this year (though I didn’t love that book like I did this one).

    But more than that, Hanna is such a fierce, determined heroine who faces down a lot of obstacles and threats. I loved her to bits.

    I was also excited to see that Dia Reeves has another book set in Portero coming out. It’s called Slice of Cherry and it will be out in January. I am really looking forward to it now.

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  5. John
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 14:12:03

    Another book to add to the TBR. I love the cover.

    :P It seems like a lot of YA books are getting into that A type of quality. Stolen, which I just read not too long ago, was amazing. I feel like such a bad reviewer for liking so many books. O_o

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  6. SonomaLass
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 14:26:39

    Janine, thanks for bringing this book to my attention! My teenage daughter (rapid-cycling bipolar II) can’t wait to read it.

    ReplyReply

  7. Jennie
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 14:34:50

    Wow, this book sounds fascinating. Thanks for the review! I probably never would have seen the book on my own, but based on your review I think I’ll add it to my “buy” list.

    ReplyReply

  8. Tiffany M.
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 14:50:07

    I love this book!!! It’s my favorite read of the year. Your review is awesome. I have a hard time recommending the book to people, because it is so different and amazing (not everyone I know will appreciate it or enjoy it). It fit me, however, perfectly. ^^

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  9. Ana
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 15:08:36

    What an awesome review of my favorite read of the year! I completely agree with your assessment about its originality (and yes Mind Games is another superbly original story) and the characters. I can’t wait for a Slice of Cherry.

    Angie YOU MUST GET IT. Did you hear what Janine said?

    Hanna is such a fierce, determined heroine who faces down a lot of obstacles and threats

    Now, doesn’t that sound like an Angie-book? ; )

    @John – I feel the same way about YA reads.

    ReplyReply

  10. elizs
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 15:26:41

    I love that one of my favorite book blogs reviewed my former college roommate’s book!! Hooray! Dia is terrific (I may be slightly biased).

    ReplyReply

  11. Janine
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 16:56:02

    @John: I hope you enjoy Bleeding Violet, John. Obviously I think it’s a terrific book.

    I’ve been wanting to read Stolen so it’s good to hear you liked it. I feel that the YA genre is having a Golden Age right now. The books are a lot more satisfying than many of the books written for teens back when I was a teenager.

    @SonomaLass: You’re welcome. Hope your daughter enjoys the book! I think you might like it, too. It’s pretty mature in its content.

    As I say in the review the treatment of mental illness isn’t always realistic but it was great to see a protagonist who suffers from a mental disorder nonetheless.

    @Jennie: I hope you enjoy the book. I can say that it’s put Dia Reeves on my list of authors whose future books I’ll be purchasing.

    I would love to hear what you and others here in this thread think of the book.

    @Tiffany M.: I think it may be my favorite read of the year so far too. I agree with you that it may not be to everyone’s taste, but frankly I feel that books that are written to try to please everyone end up bland and boring, and this book is anything but.

    Thanks for the kind words about my review. I really wasn’t sure if I adequately conveyed what I loved about this book. It’s great to find another fan, too.

    @Ana: Thank you so much for reviewing this book and bringing it to my attention! I’m so glad to have discovered it, and also The Adoration of Jenna Fox, another great YA novel I found through your blog earlier this year and reviewed here. Keep up the great reviewing!

    @elizs: Wow, that’s awesome that the author was your college roommate! I think she’s enormously talented so maybe you are not as biased as you think.

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  12. Laura Manivong
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 17:41:15

    Reading this one right now, and it’s a joy to know I’m in the hands of an excellent writer.

    ReplyReply

  13. Janine
    Jul 07, 2010 @ 18:20:04

    @Laura Manivong: Glad you are enjoying the book! I felt the same way — that feeling of being in good hands with this author.

    ReplyReply

  14. bettie
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 01:01:53

    Thanks to your recommendation, this book is sitting on my Reader waiting to be read. I’m really looking forward to it.

    The typesetting looks fine in my copy–Maybe they fixed it?

    ReplyReply

  15. Bronte
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 04:13:46

    Janine, your review makes me want to read this book but mental illness is one of my squick factors (having grown up with a schizophrenic mother). Probably a difficult question to answer but how much of a role does mental illness play in this book?

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  16. Janine
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 09:58:43

    @bettie: I hope you like Bleeding Violet as much as I did.

    Re. the typesetting — I hope so.

    @Bronte:
    Your question is tough to answer without spoilers, so I will answer with a spoiler warning.

    S
    P
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    S

    I would say that mental illness plays a significant role in the story, but not in the way it would in most books.

    First, I didn’t feel that the mentally ill were negatively stereotyped here (as they are in so many books with mentally ill villains).

    Second, after Hanna arrives in Portero, things that had previously been hallucinations or wishes become real through some supernatural means. For example, her father, whose voice she used to hear, now appears as a ghost she can see, and he is a ghost who knows things about Portero and who comes to her aid. In this way, what might previously have been a handicap for Hanna actually ends up empowering her. Also, with one significant exception, her violent tendencies mainly get taken out on the nasty paranormal creatures.

    She still has the emotional up and downs of a manic depressive to contend with, but with the exception of a couple of significant times, they are not that intense and not the focus on the story.

    The story is really about Hanna’s relationships with her mother and with Wyatt, and about Portero, which is a very strange town in the supernatural sense.

    Hope this answer helps!

    ReplyReply

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