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REVIEW: Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves

Dear Ms. Reeves,

Your debut YA novel, Bleeding Violet, was one of my favorite books of last year, so when you emailed me with an offer to review an ARC of your second book, Slice of Cherry, I jumped at the chance.

Slice & Cherry Slice of Cherry is written in third person omniscient narration, but the only character whose POV we are given is fifteen-year-old Fancy Cordelle. Fancy and her seventeen-year-old sister Kit live in Portero, Texas, a town where supernatural goings on are as commonplace as the gory Annas that sprout up wherever dead bodies are buried.

Kit and Fancy are descended from Cherry du Haven, a slave whose ghost makes each person's dearest wish come true – but not always in the way that person wants it to. As Cherry's descendants, the girls may have inherited some unusual powers. But Fancy and Kit are also the daughters of the infamous "Bonesaw Killer," and as such, they have inherited something even more unsettling- their father's thirst for blood. The story begins when a prowler's invasion of their bedroom triggers the teenage girls' penchant for violence:

Fancy only allowed three people in the whole world to get close to her: Daddy, who was on death row; Madda, who was working the graveyard shift; and Kit, who was dead to the world in the bed next to hers. And so when she awoke to find a prowler hanging over her, violating her personal space, her first instinct was to jab her dream-diary pencil into his eye.

But even in the dark of night with a stranger in her room, Fancy wasn't one to behave rashly. Daddy had been rash, and now he was going to be killed. No, Fancy would be calm and think of a nonlethal way to teach the prowler why it was important not to disturb a young girl in her bed late at night.

Kit wakes up soon after Fancy and she doesn't have the same compunctions. She wants to kill the prowler immediately. After knocking him unconscious and dragging him to the cellar, where their serial-killer father sawed his victims, the girls argue about what to do with the prowler.

Fancy is terrified of losing Kit the way she lost her father to death row, so she promises that if Kit refrains from killing the prowler, Fancy will try to use her power to see distant places to show Kit their father.

Fancy has the ability to see things in transparent surfaces, and she uses a kinetoscope for that purpose. But although the kinetoscope shows the sisters Fancy's imaginary world, the Happy Place, they cannot catch a glimpse of their father.

Meanwhile, Kit has been slashing the intruder's skin in her anger and frustration. Afterward, Fancy stitches him up, but refuses his pleas for release. She doesn't want Kit to be taken away from her the way their father was.

Soon visits to the cellar for cutting and stitching the prowler's skin become routine to the girls, who even nickname the prowler Franken. Their sweet-natured, hardworking mother, whose name is Lynne but whom they call Madda, has no idea what her daughters are getting up to, and the girls fear that if she learns that they have graduated from dissecting animals to cutting on a human being, she will hate them.

When an old man tries to rape Kit, Kit kills her would-be rapist in what starts out as self-defense. But her sadistic urges – ones Fancy secretly shares – come to the fore, and Fancy is more worried than ever that she will lose Kit.

There are also two brothers, Gabriel and Ilan, who show an interest in Kit and Fancy, despite the fact that Kit and Fancy's father killed the brothers' dad. But the girls are contemptuous of the boys at first, or indeed of anyone outside their family. Fancy even refuses to speak to outsiders and lets Kit do all her talking for her. What began as a defense mechanism when so many people rejected them for being the Bonesaw Killer's daughters has become unhealthy, but the girls don't see this.

When Madda insists that Kit and Fancy have become too close, and signs them up for separate art and music summer classes, Fancy and Kit are chagrined. Meanwhile, there is the problem of Franken, who is developing a Stockholm Syndrome-like attachment to Kit. Fancy wants to get rid of him, but how can she do so without leaving evidence?

Fortunately, Juneteenth, a time when families go to Cherry Glade so teenagers can make a wish and ask the ghost of Cherry du Haven to grant it, is coming up. Fancy plans to ask never to be separated from Kit. But Fancy's visit to Cherry Glade has some unexpected consequences…

As mentioned before I loved Bleeding Violet and my expectations of Slice of Cherry were high. But while I admire a lot of the writing in Slice of Cherry, I feel much more ambivalent about this novel than I did about its predecessor.

The prose in Slice of Cherry is strong, as the two paragraphs I quoted above showed. You have a vivid way with descriptions. I loved metaphors like this one: "The sun floated just over the horizon, the sky streaked with red as though God had killed someone and hadn't bothered to clean it up."

The worldbuilding is unusual, and even though there is much less grounding in the mythology of Portero in this novel than there was in Bleeding Violet, I still enjoyed the wacky, disturbing goings on that popped up from the ground or in a reflective surface, sometimes when I least expected it.

My biggest reservation about this novel is the main characters. It's not that Kit and Fancy aren't well drawn, but rather that I didn't care for them very much, and as a result I didn't care about what happened to them that greatly, either.

I have a soft spot for flawed and morally ambiguous characters, so I don't think it was the girls' darkness per se that troubled me. Rather, I think it was their amorality. Their consciences seemed close to nonexistent at times. They didn't seem to have a strong sense of the value of a human life or much empathy, either. I think a character can be deeply flawed and still possess those qualities, and I kept hoping they would make an appearance in Kit and Fancy's emotional makeup.

The girls did grow into healthier (if not healthy) people – in fact, Slice of Cherry is the story of that growth process, of how Fancy and Kit learn to let other people into their lives, to contribute to society in their twisted way, and at the same time, to acknowledge who they are and discover that they can be accepted and even loved despite their flaws.

All of the above are themes I normally enjoy, but in this case, I just couldn't connect with Fancy and Kit. It wasn't until the last hundred pages that I started liking them. I understood that it was partly the rejection of the townspeople that had made Kit and Fancy so insular, but somehow I didn't feel their vulnerability the way I did Hanna's in Bleeding Violet. (Incidentally, Hanna and Wyatt's cameo appearance in this book was my favorite scene). Gabriel and Ilan appealed to me more, but I couldn't really understand Ilan's attraction to Fancy, who didn't even speak to him for over half the book.

Besides this, the book sometimes felt more like a series of vignettes stitched together (no pun intended!) when I would have preferrred more cohesiveness to the plot. I also wish there had been more dialogue tags because at times I had to reread to figure out which character a particular line belonged to.

It's tough to grade this book because although I couldn't warm to the characters, the writing itself was quite good, and I'm sure there are other readers the book would appeal to more than it did to me. Still, my own enjoyment was greatly hindered by my inability to sympathize with Kit and Fancy, and so, I think I'll give this one a C.

Sincerely,

Janine Ballard

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. 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.

14 Comments

  1. Jamie Michele
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 14:52:41

    Oh, my. This sounds fascinating. Horrifying, but fascinating. I’m not sure I could stomach it.

  2. Janine
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 14:55:42

    @Jamie Michele: I wish I had found this book fascinating. But for what it’s worth, I have a weak stomach when it comes to gore and horror, and I was able to finish the book. Because of the paranormal elements and the way they are described, the violence felt a bit cartoonish, so it wasn’t as hard to take as it might have otherwise been.

  3. Jennie
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 17:00:47

    Wow, this sounds kind of interesting. I’m not sure what to think – I wonder if the subject matter is at all influenced by the popularity of the TV show Dexter, a show whose theme I have a problem with, though I’ve never actually watched the show.

    I think I might find the predilictions of the girls in this book slightly more acceptable, because they are female and teenagers. Not okay, obviously, but less realistic and thus less resonant, in that teenage girls are much less likely to be serial killers than grown white men.

    I should probably read Bleeding Violet first, anyway.

  4. Janine
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 17:42:04

    @Jennie:

    I watched a few episodes of Dexter and then decided that it wasn’t for me. I found it harder to take than Slice of Cherry, partly for the reasons you mention and partly because the paranormal elements in Slice of Cherry also cut down on the realism.

    Yes, try Bleeding Violet first, it was wonderful. I reviewed it here.

  5. Laura
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 12:49:46

    The summary for Slice of Cherry turned me off when I first read it, but I bought a copy of the book anyway because I loved Bleeding Violet so much. I’m not sure I’ll read it. I fear I won’t care about the characters, though I’m relieved to learn from your review that only one sister has the urge to kill. I’m also interested in reading the scene with Hanna and Wyatt. And though it annoys me when I can’t figure out why a certain character is attracted to another character, I’m curious about Gabriel and Ilan having crushes on both sisters with such linked pasts. This one I’ll have to think about before I read. Thanks for your review.

  6. Janine
    Jan 13, 2011 @ 13:28:00

    @Laura: I’m glad to hear you loved Bleeding Violet since I did too.

    I'm relieved to learn from your review that only one sister has the urge to kill.

    Did I imply that? I didn’t mean to. It’s true that Fancy tries to dissuade Kit from killing in the beginning, but the reason for that is mainly that she fears Kit will get caught and go to prison.

    SPOILERS
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    Once Fancy figures out a way for them to avoid getting caught, her attitude shifts somewhat. Actually one of the things I found interesting was that while Kit began as the more ruthless of the two, a role reversal took place later on in the book.
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    End of spoiler

    I'm also interested in reading the scene with Hanna and Wyatt.

    It was a short scene but even so in that brief scene Reeves showed again how wonderful Wyatt is.

    And though it annoys me when I can't figure out why a certain character is attracted to another character, I'm curious about Gabriel and Ilan having crushes on both sisters with such linked pasts.

    I thought the attraction despite the link in the past was explained well. By the end of the book I understood why the actions of Kit and Fancy’s father did not hinder the brothers’ attraction to the girls.

  7. LG
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 12:44:13

    Like a couple other commenters, the first thing that occurred to me was Dexter – I have read both the books (in which I think the main character is wittier, but more lacking in normal human emotions, actually making him more interesting to me) and seen the first season of the show.

    I really enjoy both the Dexter books and show, even if it sometimes gets a bit gory for me, and even if the gray areas sometimes get a bit too dark, because there’s something about Dexter that makes him fun for me to read and almost likeable, despite what he does. I’d have to try this book out to be sure, but, from what you’ve written and the quote you included, it sounds like this might be right up my alley. Although, I’m a little confused why anyone, much less brothers whose father was killed by the girls, would be attracted to them on anything other than possibly a physical level.

    I’ll add this one to my TBR list. :) Forgive me if you already mentioned this somewhere, but is it best to read Bleeding Violet first?

  8. Janine
    Jan 14, 2011 @ 14:39:33

    @LG:

    I'd have to try this book out to be sure, but, from what you've written and the quote you included, it sounds like this might be right up my alley.

    I hope you enjoy the book — please feel welcome to come back and let me know. I would love to hear from more readers who have read it.

    Although, I'm a little confused why anyone, much less brothers whose father was killed by the girls, would be attracted to them on anything other than possibly a physical level.

    This is something that is puzzling at first but much more understandable at the end of the book. I can’t explain why without giving away major spoilers.

    I'll add this one to my TBR list. :) Forgive me if you already mentioned this somewhere, but is it best to read Bleeding Violet first?

    IMO it’s not necessary to read Bleeding Violet first. The two books share the same setting (Portero, Texas, a town where there are “doors” or portals into other worlds) but other than that they are not connected. Hanna and Wyatt from Bleeding Violet make a very brief appearance in Slice of Cherry but it’s a very minor cameo so it’s okay to skip Bleeding Violet if you prefer.

    Having said that, I think Bleeding Violet is an excellent book and very much worth reading. I encourage readers to seek it out, especially if you like Slice of Cherry but even if you don’t.

  9. LG
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 09:08:23

    Sorry for the huge comment…I’m still trying to process this book and how I feel about it.

    I finished the book this morning after starting it 4 or 5 days ago – I alternated between feeling like I couldn’t put it down and feeling like I *had* to put it down, because I was so tense waiting for Fancy to blow up. I actually skipped to the end at one point, just to make sure Fancy and Kit were both still alive. To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure Fancy wouldn’t kill Kit at some point. She would have regretted it afterward, sure, but I could imagine her doing it. The stuff Kit did was freaky enough, but in some ways Fancy was scarier, because it felt like, by keeping her urges in check, all she was doing was allowing them to build to some kind of horrific breaking point.

    It was hard for me to get a handle on the girls, and on the people of Portero. For Kit, killing seemed something like…a craving, maybe. All she really wanted was just to do it – it’d be horrible and messy, but probably over fairly quickly, after which I thought she might be fine until the urges built up again (or someone pissed her off). Fancy, on the other hand, seemed to savor it more – the would-be rapist wouldn’t have had nearly such a long and horrible death without Fancy’s suggestions, and it was Fancy who got all creative about it once she could kill without the fear of getting caught. I couldn’t really get a feel for what I was supposed to be thinking about either one of the girls. Was what they were doing supposed to be wrong? Not wrong? Ambiguous?

    After townspeople started asking for their help, I had a guess as to what the answer would be and why, even though I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. The talk with the sherrif confirmed it. I still haven’t read Bleeding Violet (although I definitely plan to – Portero itself has me hooked), but from what I learned about Portero in this book, I suppose the reaction to the girls makes sense – I just find it hard to believe no one made it clearer earlier on why they didn’t like what the girls’ father did. Considering the reaction of the average Porterene, Madda sometimes seemed like she must not be a Portero native.

    For me, the most unsettling thing about this book was my eventual realization that I kind of identified with Fancy – not her urges to kill, thank goodness, but more her feelings about her sister. My sister and I were Army brats, and for the longest time our most stable and constant relationships were those we had with our family. Things change, though, and after our dad got out of the military and we grew older, we hung out with different people and drifted apart more. I didn’t adapt as quickly and easily as my sister seemed to, and Kit and Fancy’s fights reminded me of some of the fights I had with my sister.

    When I first read your review, I thought of Dexter. Kit and Fancy (particularly Fancy, as the book progressed) unnerved me more than Dexter ever has, however. I tried to puzzle out why.

    I think part of it is due to getting to see way more of Kit and Fancy do for fun, in full, gory detail. I’m pretty sure there’s a bit in the Dexter books where Dexter says he started off with animals, but I don’t think details are ever given. With Kit, there’s not much more than a sentence, but that sentence immediately gave me an unsettling image that wouldn’t go away. Dexter kills people and there’s blood, and he gets rid of the bodies in pieces – I think the author gives more details about what other killers do than what Dexter does. Kit and Fancy kill people, and you get descriptions of the entrails and more than enough information to imagine the horror their victims go through (again, thinking of the would-be rapist). It’s not until later in the book that their killings go from something that feels painfully grounded in what could happen in real life to something that feels over-the-top enough to create (for me, at least) a slightly more comfortable cushion of fantasy. I thought the girls were at their most horrific in the first half or two thirds of the book, and it was…uncomfortable.

  10. Janine
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 14:52:21

    @LG: I’m so glad you commented since I’ve never found anyone else who read this book to discuss it with. Please don’t feel the need to apologize for long and thought-out comments, I love them!

    I think I started out more unnerved by Kit and looking at Fancy as the character I might be able to identify with in this story, but then Fancy started doing all that disturbing stuff you mentioned and I couldn’t identify with her much either.

    I couldn't really get a feel for what I was supposed to be thinking about either one of the girls. Was what they were doing supposed to be wrong? Not wrong? Ambiguous?

    That is an excellent point and one I wish I had thought to make in my review. It’s hard to pin down what feelings the author wants to evoke in us readers about all this.

    There’s a lot more about Portero in Bleeding Violet and although there are some disturbing aspects to that book as well, it didn’t make me nearly as uncomfortable as Slice of Cherry did. The reaction of the Porterenes does fit with what we learn about them in both books and you’re right that Madda seems a bit unusual but

    SPOILER

    Doesn’t she indicate at one point that she might have forgiven the girls’ father if he hadn’t kept everything a secret from her? So maybe that, and the fact that he preyed on Porterenes, were the things that broke up their marriage, rather than his being a killer.

    END OF SPOILER

    I know what you mean about your army brat childhood. I moved a lot as a kid too — between sixth and eleventh grade I attended six schools in six years — and it made me really dependent on and attached to my immediate family.

    But for some reason, once Fancy started showing her sadistic urges, I couldn’t identify with her or with Kit that much. That was probably my biggest problem with the book, that I felt at arm’s length from the characters. I kind of envy your experience of being able to connect with Fancy, actually. I wish I had been unable to put the book down.

    Re. Dexter, I have only ever seen the TV show. and I didn’t make it past the first few episodes. I’m not sure why Kit and Fancy felt less real to me. It may have been because I was familiar with Portero from Bleeding Violet so I knew I was in for a surreal world, or it may have been due to my inability to feel a deep connection with any of the characters in Slice of Cherry.

    I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on Bleeding Violet once you read it, if you feel like posting them in the comments on that review or dropping me an email. I loved Bleeding Violet but not everyone does.

    I’m curious, what grade would you give to Slice of Cherry?

  11. LG
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 19:52:51

    @Janine: I’m not surprised you have trouble finding people to discuss this book with – I tried to tell a couple people about this book, and I couldn’t seem to find words that didn’t make them look horrified or say “interesting” in a way that said they were humoring me. If it were possible to convince a whole group of people to read it, though, I think it would make for an absolutely fantastic book club discussion.

    If I had to give this book a grade, I think it would probably be a B-/B. It might have been in the C range if it weren’t for that point, late in the book, when it hit me Fancy didn’t feel as alien to me as she should have and I understood why that was.

    My grade might have been a bit higher if it hadn’t been for my discomfort over Fancy and Kit’s little punishment business. For one thing, I couldn’t understand how the entire town could be completely ok with, and even supportive of, the girls basically declaring themselves judge, jury, and executioner. No one had any problems with most of the punishments being death, either. I got the impression that Reeves wanted readers to think Fancy was finally using her skills for good, and that this was a good thing. The main things that tempered my discomfort over this were 1) the girls didn’t actively hunt down people they decided needed to be killed for the good of Portero and 2) Fancy showed signs that she’d be willing to shift from death as the primary punishment to sadistically creative but nonlethal punishments. Still not great, and I’m not sure I’d ever want to be alone with a girl like Fancy if she were real, no matter how much I can relate to other aspects of her, but it went a little way towards helped me suspend my disbelief some.

    I don’t think “like” or “enjoy” are quite the right words for how I feel about Slice of Cherry but the story did suck me in and it gave me a lot to think about. I definitely couldn’t read this kind of thing on a regular basis, though. I haven’t had to work this hard to process my feelings for a book in a long time. I’m glad you didn’t think Bleeding Violet was as uncomfortable a read. I’ll definitely drop by and write a comment when I’m done.

    Doesn't she indicate at one point that she might have forgiven the girls' father if he hadn't kept everything a secret from her?

    Yeah, she does, but at the time I just figured she was trying to make the girls feel better, and her first reaction when she learned what the girls had been doing seemed to bear that out. Every other Porterene’s first reaction seemed to be something along the lines of “It’s fantastic that you girls are doing something good for the community, here, have some cookies, and I hope you don’t stab me while I give you a hug.”

  12. Janine
    Mar 30, 2011 @ 20:38:19

    @LG: I think the Porterenes’ reaction may be somewhat clearer to you after you read Bleeding Violet. Then again, maybe not.

    Bleeding Violet is a better introduction to Portero, IMO, because Hanna is an outsider to Portero, and so are readers when they begin reading. Hanna gradually learns more about the town as the story progresses. I also felt that Portero was almost a character in and of itself in Bleeding Violet, but I didn’t feel that way about its depiction in Slice of Cherry.

    I will look forward to your thoughts on Bleeding Violet.

  13. Jennie
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 00:06:13

    I just finished this, and though my feelings were mixed, overall it was a positive reading experience. I’d give it a B+.

    Pluses: I LOVE Reeves’ voice. It is fresh, snappy, unique and funny. It contributed a lot to making me like Fancy and Kit more than I might have otherwise. They were such funny, smart girls, I couldn’t help but like them and root for them, even when their actions were monstrous.

    Minuses: well, yes, I did end up having some ambivalence about the violence and the twistedness of Fancy and Kit’s predelictions. Probably less than I should have, because the paranormal element really blunted the impact and “realness” of the deaths for me. In fact, I think the fact that all of their victims ended up in the happy place, one way or another (e.g. as trees) made it feel like they weren’t *really* dead, at least not completely. The only time I really felt a twinge of reality was when Fancy killed Ilan’s bandmate and Ilan expressed some regret over that. It brought home what generally bothers me about fictional violence – if it’s too realistic, even if I know it’s not real, I can’t help but feel some of the pain of the survivors, to know that there are really people out there suffering because their father or brother or daughter was murdered.

    But mostly the paranormal aspect combined with the weird light-hearted narrative voice really made it hard for me to take the violence too seriously. I think ultimately I was more troubled by the strife between Fancy and Kit – maybe because I can relate to a degree, having a sister that I’m very close to. I could relate to Fancy’s POV, because I’ve been the possessive younger sister (not for a while, but I still remember the feeling). I felt frustrated a bit by Kit’s lack of concern for Fancy’s feelings (weird that I was more bothered by Kit’s callousness in re to Fancy’s feelings than her callousness in murdering people!). OTOH, towards the end, I really got tired of Fancy’s single-minded hatred of Gabriel; she seemed really immature in not understanding that murdering her sister’s boyfriend was not going to put everything back the way it had been before.

    Still, I found the book kind of fascinating. Now I *really* need to pick up Bleeding Violet and read it.

  14. Janine
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 00:42:50

    You got more out of this book than I did, Jennie. I agree about Reeves’ voice though. I am really looking forward to your thoughts about Bleeding Violet.

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