Plot Summary: Hanna has been revolving through medications and diagnosis for a while now and will do anything to avoid going back to the mental hospital. Including hitting her aunt over the head with a lamp and running away to the mother that abandoned her years ago. Her mom still wants nothing to do with her but they make a deal if she takes her meds and learns to fit in she can stay. She soon learns that Portero is full of all kinds of strange monsters and to fit in she will not only have to survive she will also have to learn to fight. She soon finds herself mixed up in decades old power struggle trying to keep her mom alive. When she thinks she fails she tries to commit suicide but fails when she comes back she realizes she must keep fighting and find a way to save her mom. Ultimately she is able to use her hallucinations which have come to life in this strange town to save herself and her mother and prove she belongs in Portero.
Critical Evaluation: The style of the book creates a sense of confusion that adds to the horror of the story. Readers are often not initially sure which events are real and which are Hanna’s hallucinations. It is later revealed that in Portero her hallucinations can come to life and be seen and felt by other people, but in the earlier scenes this adds to the experience of reading the book as readers feel Hanna’s confusion as she tries to figure out what exactly is happening in Portero. The book also has a good amount of foreshadowing throughout the story. For example, early descriptions of the townspeople’s respect for Hanna’s mom reveal clues to the fact that she has been possessed. Likewise there are clues that Hanna’s hallucinations are becoming real in Portero and clues about Hanna’s other abilities. Overall the writing style of the book that brings readers into Hanna’s confusion and the foreshadowing of Hanna’s abilities helps add to Hanna’s overall character growth and development as she adjusts to her new home and tries to gain control over her mental illness. While she may not gain control over her mental illness in a traditional sense her ability to control her hallucinations to use them in the final fight as well as her optimism in staying in Portero do indicate some level of control that she previously lacked. She is definitely a stronger person and more able to face her fears at the end of the book. Overall the story is very well thought out and developed.
Reader’s Annotation: Hanna runs away to join to her mother who doesn’t want anything to do with her but, they make a deal if she takes her meds and learns to fit she can stay. The task turns out to be much harder than anticipated when she learns the town’s strange secrets.
Author Information: Dia Reeves is a librarian and author of two novels and a contributor in two anthologies for YA readers. She is inspired by her family’s stories of growing up in East Texas and lives near Dallas.
Curriculum Ties: Could be used as an example of modern horror or to discuss depictions of mental illness in literature.
Booktalk Ideas: 1) In what ways does moving to Portero have a positive or negative effect on Hanna’s mental illness and self esteem?
2) How does this book compare to other horror novels you have read? Do you think Hanna’s mental illness adds to the Horror elements of the story?
Reading Level & Interest Level: The book is listed as being for ages 14-18 years I think this is fairly appropriate in reading and interest level for this book though some teens may still be uncomfortable with the depiction of mental illness so the individual readers maturity level and personal history with mental illness are a factor here.
Challenge Issues: The book features multiple violent attacks on the townspeople by various monsters and an attempted suicide. It is violent and dark and may be triggering for some readers struggling with mental illness. However, it may also be a great asset to teens struggling with mental illness as well. Reading about someone else struggling with suicidal thoughts can be a comfort in knowing that you are alone. Further in the end of the book Hanna is able to use her hallucinations to save herself and her mother and has finally found a place where she fits in. While the story is very dark it ultimately has a happy ending for Hanna that maybe of comfort to some teens.
Why is it included?: I recently came across Dia Reeves other book Slice of Cherry again and was reminded of how much I had enjoyed it as a teen so I wanted to give this book a chance. I think it is a really unique horror story and that it is a good addition to a collection to satisfy teens looking for a unique addition to the genre.