Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mental Illness and Horror: A Review of Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves

I read Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves several months ago. This book was recommended to me for a number of reasons. First, although I am an adult I occasionally enjoy a YA novel. There's a strange sort of nostalgia to reading about characters younger then myself. Secondly, I have an odd fascination with mental illness. And finally, because paranormal/fantasy is my favorite genre and the one I read most often.

WARNING: Minor Spoilers Ahead.

This book is surreal. Hanna is a bipolar sixteen year old who was living with her aunt, but for one reason and another ran away from home to live with the mother she has never met or had contact with. Her mother, Rosalee, doesn't seem to want her anymore then her aunt did, but Hanna is determined. Rosalee tells her that if she can manage to fit in and make friends she can stay. Hanna quickly finds that her new home is extremely unusual. The town is full of monsters and supernatural phenomena. Everyone treats Hanna like an outsider, and expect her to die or run away screaming at any minute. Hanna meets Wyatt, who is part of a group of monster fighters called Mortmaine. Hanna and Wyatt banter back and forth and quickly succum to their mutual attraction.

The best sub-genre to place this in is horror, without a doubt. It's plenty violent and gory, with moments that even a jaded reader may find disturbing. The gratuitous violence was not really a problem for me, because I frequently read horror and usually enjoy it. The bizarreness of it all is also not a problem, because at least it's imaginative. Because Hanna suffers from hallucinations, what is real and what is in her head is sometimes ambiguous. I thought that was a nice touch.

My issue is the characters. Hanna has all the characteristics of a problem teen: she acts out, is sexually promiscuous, doesn't have a problem with violence, does drugs, and never thinks about consequences. She's bipolar and doesn't always take her meds. She's so very desperate for someone to love her, it's pitiful. There is just something off about Hanna's character. I liked her, I even sympathized with her at times. But, whether because of her illness or the weirdness of the setting/scenery, she never seemed real to me. She seems more like a caricature then a real person. And because of this, it's difficult to become really invested in her story.

Wyatt is similarly unreal and twisted. I did like him, and I felt like he started to grow a lot in the story. As for their relationship, it was just ok. It gets physical really quickly, and that did nothing to help the realism. They do have some good dialogue and banter. But at no point did I believe they were falling in love, or would remain together long term.

Aside from Hanna and Wyatt, who at least have moments of likeability, I hated every single character. Hanna's mother is irredeemable. I know that on some level she loves Hanna, but not once does she show it in any way that counts. The other teens seem cold and generic, none standing out at all. Except Petra, of course, who is so whiny that you root for her to die horribly.

I also think it's necessary to discuss whether this book is really appropriate for teens. For younger teens, probably not. It's too full of violence and sex with no reference to consequences. But for any reasonably mature teen over the age of 16 or so, this book is perfectly fine. It doesn't go so far as to really condone the bad behavior, and I don't see many readers wanting to emulate a crazy character in any case.

The bottom line is, I didn't like this book because I didn't care for the characters. But I'm entirely in favor of horror and surrealness and all of those wonderful things. So I'd say if your a horror/fantasy, and you don't mind deeply flawed characters, maybe give it a try. 2 stars.

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