Kit and Fancy Cordelle are sisters of the best kind: best friends, best confidantes, and best accomplices. The daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer, Kit and Fancy are used to feeling like outsiders, and that’s just the way they like it. But in Portero, where the weird and wild run rampant, the Cordelle sisters are hardly the oddest or most dangerous creatures around.A couple years ago for this Halloween horror marathon, I read Dia Reeves’ debut novel Bleeding Violet, and mostly loved it, but with a pretty big asterisk noting my concern re: the portrayal of its heroine’s mental illness.
It’s no surprise when Kit and Fancy start to give in to their deepest desire – the desire to kill. What starts as a fascination with slicing open and stitching up quickly spirals into a gratifying murder spree. Of course, the sisters aren’t killing just anyone, only the people who truly deserve it. But the girls have learned from the mistakes of their father, and know that a shred of evidence could get them caught. So when Fancy stumbles upon a mysterious and invisible doorway to another world, she opens a door to endless possibilities.
Having now read the companion novel, Slice of Cherry, I’m fucking thrilled to have something set in this world that I can recommend whole-heartedly, without reservation, because y’all, this book was fantastic.
The quick pitch for Slice of Cherry is that it’s about the ostracized daughters of an infamous serial killer navigating their lives – and murderous impulses – in the fictional city of Portero, Texas, where deadly weird is the norm. It’s a fantastic hook enhanced by a delightfully bizarre setting and matter-of-fact tone, a book in which the problem of where to dispose of a body can be solved by a sincerely-made wish and a portal to a private pocket-dimension.
But intertwined with the alternately gruesome and cartoony killing spree is the story of the summer in which two hurt, codependent teenage girls grew up and began the process of finding their own places in the world. Who’d have thought that packed into this weird teen serial killers book is the most compelling coming-of-age story I’ve read in years?
So, there are two things that are probably gonna make or break Slice of Cherry for y’all, and I mean ‘make’ as in ‘you’re gonna think it’s the best fucking thing ever’ and ‘break’ in the ‘you’re not gonna be able to get past this’ kind of way. I don’t know that there’s a middle ground for this sort of thing.
1) The girls are serial killers, and wrestling with the morality of that need to kill is not really part of their arc.
I think my favorite part of Slice of Cherry is that its heroine(s) are messy, often ugly girls. Not physically (obvs), but as characters. The book is all about them being harsh and cruel and murderous and selfish and controlling and weird, without villainizing them in the way that another book might. The girls – Fancy and Kit Cordelle – do awful things, up to and including murder, sometimes but not always to bad people, and certainly enjoyed in a way that some might find unseemly, but always remain the protagonists of the story.
That’s not to say that the sisters’ need to kill goes completely unexamined, or that their killing habits don’t change throughout the course of the book, or that they get away scott free with all of their bad behavior. But it’s less about the objective (lack of) morality of killing as it is the ways in which the girls’ behavior hurts themselves and one another. So, while the narrative might not give a shit about one of the girls bricking a woman in the face, it does give a shit when one exposes her sister’s boyfriend’s secret in a jealous rage.
The gist of it is, if unjudged, unvillainized semi-vigilante serial killing sisters getting a happily ever after seems distasteful, Slice of Cherry ain’t for you.
2) Portero IS. IT JUST IS.
I’ve seen several reviews, for both Slice of Cherry and Bleeding Violet, where folks were upset by the “lack of world building”. They say the magical shit wasn’t structured enough, that nothing was explained, and look, I’mma try not to be too dismissive, but looking for the hows and whys of Portero is completely missing the point. Portero is the setting, not the focus, and its inherent weirdness is there to create a layer of unreality that lets this story be told without exacerbating our suspension of disbelief. It’s not supposed to be realistic, because this story couldn’t exist in a realistic setting. It’s a goddamn allegory, why are you demanding boring minutia from a goddamn allegory?
UGH. Look, I mean, it’s like Night Vale, right? It doesn’t matter why weird shit happens in Night Vale, it just does, and everyone has just adjusted to and accepted that. If that sort of thing bothers you, then again, Slice of Cherry: probably not for you.
(On the legit side, this book comes with a bunch of CONTENT WARNINGs. Slice of Cherry features occasionally graphic violence, homophobic slurs, an attempted rape, and child abuse (physical and sexual), some of which is actually shown, not just mentioned. So, you know, read safe.)
HOWEVER, if ugly messy controlling murderous teenage girls killing folks and growing up and getting angry and clinging to and running away from one another and having sex and finding love in themselves and with others in a town full of weird door magic and frog monsters, where, oh yeah, everyone is a person of color, sounds like the best goddamn thing ever, I’ve got good news: Slice of Cherry EXISTS and DELIVERS.
This is the kind of book, these are the kinds of characters, this is the kind of narrative that I’m fucking desperate for, and I think I’m actually begging you guys to read this. I want more stories from this town and from this author, so please: buy Slice of Cherry (and Bleeding Violet) and read them, and love them, and then TOTALLY @ me so we can talk about how amazing that trunk scene with Ilan is.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS