Review: Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson

Ultraviolet
RJ Anderson

Orchard
Released June 2, 2011
303 pages
YA / Science Fiction-ish

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Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. 

This is not her story. 

Unless you count the part where I killed her. 

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori—the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?

It’s been a month since I read this book and it’s still floating around in my head. I didn’t really know what to expect with Ultraviolet, but it wasn’t this. And once I felt like I knew where things were going, what the rules of the universe were, and had firm ground to understand the plot, Anderson flipped the floor out from under me and I could not put the book down. I mean, universe flipped, characters got into unforeseen situations and yet it all made sense. It was incredible.

Most of the story takes place in a mental hospital, a story telling element that I have a strange attraction to, so I bought in. It focuses on Alison, who has synesthesia, meaning her senses don’t exactly work correctly. She tastes colors and hears emotions and it’s all quite fascinating. Had the book just been about Alison’s synesthesia and her coming to terms and learning how to deal with it, I would have been perfectly happy though the book probably wouldn’t have had the “WTF” wow factor. I don’t know how much research Anderson made into the subject, but it feels realistic and the language she uses describes Alison without causing any judgment that she’s “crazy”. She’s just different.

Anderson does great at writing about teenagers with mental health issues without feeling judgmental. The pyromaniac is just a boy, who has a broken home life and a need for attention. The manic depressive feels lonely and doesn’t know how to reach out to others. It all seems so simple yet each character breathes and lives even when they’re not “on screen” very often. So by throwing Alison in this vivid atmosphere with these developed characters, a story comes forward that doesn’t need any supernatural elements to make it interesting or intrigue me to move forward.

But there’s a mystery and a mystery needs a solution. My mind ran through scenarios regarding cults, schizophrenia, and possibly a giant hoax to explain away the murder and immediate disappearance of the popular Tori. I did not by a long shot see what the actual solution was and I refuse to spoil it, so anyone reading this review chooses to take a chance on Ultraviolet can possibly be dumbstruck at that crucial moment when they’re about to go to bed only to realized they HAVE TO KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON! Despite the seeming randomness of the seeming sudden plot change, in retrospect there were tiny clues and foreshadowing to reflect where the story was headed.

So yes, Ultraviolet is a fascinating story about mental illness and how to possibly deal with a potentially debilitating condition that can’t be controlled or “fixed”. But then throw in the awkwardly adorable Sebastian, a curious medical student fascinated by the extreme quality to Alison’s condition, and I was sold. I love awkwardly adorable boys, and I loved the connection he made with Alison in trying to make her feel less alone and weird.

I have absolutely no idea how or where RJ Anderson will go with the sequel to Ultraviolet, though I was left with so much wonderment that I’m willing to give it a try. I can’t imagine it could match the glorious weirdness of this first book, but with her story telling capabilities and ability to tie together seemingly unrelated plot points means she has my interest in whatever she chooses to do next.

 

I got this book from the library and have since returned it. I hope someone else is getting knocked off their feet by the twist.