The beginning: A teenager sneaks into her estranged mother’s house in Texas, desperately hoping that she will be allowed to stay. The only family Hanna has ever known were her father and his (Finnish) relatives. Now, with her father dead and her aunt Ulla unable to deal with a manic-depressive niece, Hanna has come from Finland to Portero, Texas, to make her home with her mother, Rosalee. Hanna’s fear is that she will be too weird and crazy for her mother and her new town.
Turns out she doesn’t know from weird and crazy. The town of Portero is home to more weird and crazy than Hanna’s mind was ever capable of dreaming up. In her first week at school, she accidentally helps defeat some evil creatures that suck everything good out of you if you lean against a window too long, and leave a person-shaped glass shell behind; and that isn’t close to the scariest thing in the town of Portero.
The end (spoilers in this section only, so skip ahead if you don’t want to know): Rosalee lets Hanna stay.
The whole: Of my most recent batch of library books, Bleeding Violet was the book I felt most certain I was going to enjoy after reading a few pages. I do this thing where I sit with my big bag of books, and I read a few chapters of each one. Bleeding Violet grabbed me right away. I loved Hanna’s dauntlessness and her ability to act certain when she is very far from certain.
“I’ll drive you to Dallas myself if I have to,” Rosalee muttered to herself, ignoring me.
“And then what? You come back here and live your life of solitary splendor? To hell with that. I don’t care if you don’t want me — I need a mother more than you need solitude.”
The protagonists of Bleeding Violet and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown make an interesting contrast. I admired the bravery of both those characters, but differently. The admirable quality in Tana’s bravery was tenacity, and in Hanna’s, faith. As often as Hanna has been let down in the past, and as often as she’s let down throughout this book, she continues to throw herself headfirst into danger, in the faith that the people around her will live up to her high opinion of them. As neither the world’s bravest nor the world’s most trusting person, I found that trait in Hanna immensely touching.
Apart from the growing relationship between Hanna and Rosalee, the aspect of this book that had to work for the book to work was the town of Portero. Reeves nails this, creating a town full of monsters, magic, and matter-of-fact acceptance of the perpetual possibility of death. You can easily imagine Hanna’s high school classmates claiming proudly, a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that they have the lowest mortality rate of any graduating class in Portero history. Here’s Hanna and her boyfriend Wyatt having lunch at a Portero diner:
A busboy had dropped the tray he’d been carrying, and its contents were now splattered across the peach and white tile. He turned red amidst the whistles and mocking applause. “You better stop clapping and start watching those milkshakes,” he yelled. “A milkworm’s loose.”
The taunting ended in a hurry as the diners inspected their food.
I frowned at Wyatt. “What’s a milkworm?”
“A parasite,” he said calmly, “that likes calcium. The kind in milk, but especially the kind in your bones. Trust me, you don’t wanna swallow one of those. Gotta be careful drinking milk or anything made with milk. …Milkworms’re easy to avoid. If your food or drink looks like it’s boiling or bubbling, toss it.”
Like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Bleeding Violet doesn’t altogether succeed at its plot. There are wonderful set pieces, but Reeves struggles to give Hanna a physical victory as satisfying as the emotional ones she works to achieve throughout the book. I liked and was interested in Wyatt, but the resolution of his conflict — struggling to reconcile his personal loyalties with the values demanded of him by the town’s elite team of monster-killers — seemed to have been tacked on to one corner of the climactic sequence of the book.
Those complaints notwithstanding, I really did love Hanna as a character and Portero as a setting. I’m excited to try Reeves’s second book, Slice of Cherry, which is about two sisters of Portero on a murdering spree. Because why not?