Book Review: Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

8843789Title: Ultraviolet
Author: R.J. Anderson
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Orchard Books
Publication Date: June 2nd 2011
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Rating: 5 stars
Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

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?

Ultraviolet is the book that surprised me the most thus far this year, mainly because it turned out to be nothing like I had imagined. When I first heard about this novel, I was convinced it was just another young adult paranormal/supernatural book focusing on vampires, witches or – god forbid! – faeries. But then, I actually read the blurb (always a smart move) and discovered that I was, in all honesty, quite intrigued with what I was reading, but still I didn’t have high hopes for this book. I had some faint recollection of R.J. Anderson writing novels about faeries before, and I suspected Ultraviolet to be about this ingenious species as well. But the idea of a story told from the perspective of a person who allegedly killed the most popular girl in high school, well that premise was of course interesting enough to get me started. Lets conclude by saying that my assumptions about R.J. Anderson’s possible lack of imagination and continuous habit to write about faeries, were very, very, VERY wrong.

Ultraviolet surprised me in so many ways. First of all: the setting. Practically the entire novel (safe the last part) takes place in a mental institution. When we first meet our protagonist, Alison, she is strapped to a bed in a room in an asylum, and soon after she is somewhat questioned by a police officer who escorts her to another asylum, Pine Hills. And secondly, there is hardly any mention of something paranormal. Alison herself is convinced she’s a murderer, but cannot explain to anyone how exactly she murdered Miss Popular, because it simply sounds too strange to be true. Alison hears objects, tastes syllables and feels numbers, but that’s nothing all that paranormal either, because it’s actually a medical condition called synaesthesia. The originality of the setting and the fact that no one is a vampire, faerie, witch, or anything that can be added to that line while thinking logically, are two major bonus points for Ultraviolet.

As I already said, we first meet Alison while she is strapped to a bed in a mental institution. We learn that she is the last one who has seen Tori Beauregard the day she dissappeared and that, right after returning home from detention, Alison had a mental breakdown and exclaimed that she was the one who killed Tori. By the time Alison gets transpored to another asylum, Pine Hills, where she will spend the next couple of weeks, Alison has regained enough of her memory and consciousness to remember Tori just desentegrating in front of her. Of course, that’s impossible, because people don’t just do that, so Alison, traumatized by her mother’s reactions toward her synaesthesia in her childhood, does the only thing she can possibly do: she blames it all on herself, the freak of nature, the crazy person.

While at Pine Hills, Alison meets with a lot of extraordinary people, each with their own shares of bad luck in life and bottled-up emotions. But then there’s Sebastian Faraday, a psychology student who wants to do some tests on the patients of Pine Hills. Alison agrees, and is surprised to hear that she scored very high on Faraday’s test. The latter then finally manages to give Alison the answer she has been waiting on her whole life: she isn’t crazy, she is simply suffering from synaesthesia. Albeit a great relief, the young girl is not yet convinced of her own innocence. As her feelings for Faraday start to grow, her psychiatrist Dr. Mina gives her some shocking news that might make her lose her trust in humanity alltogether.

As you can see from my short, but more extended synopsis than what you get from the cover blurb, Ultraviolet has a totally unique setting and a most original storyline to accompany that. I was amazed as I turned page after page after page and tumbled into the world of mental institutions, people with problems rather than ‘crazy people’ and got to know more about Alison and her medical condition. I did a brief search, and the information the author uses to describe synaesthesia in this novel, is truthful, as far as I can tell, which makes it all the more interesting. Tasting numbers? Feeling syllables? It might seem amazing at first, but it has to be tough to live like that too.

Alison is a protagonist you’ll learn to love right away. She isn’t like ordinary fantasy heroines. She’s quiet, rather shy, with a lot of bottled-up feelings and a severe difficulty to express emotions. She has this mental condition that doesn’t make her life any easier, especially not since her mother acts like she’s going crazy, and seems more afraid of her than anything else. But apart from that, Alison seems like a normal high school girl, with a best friend Mel and a number one enemy Tori. But even though so, Alison tries to get along with Tori at first, despite the weird noise she hears when coming closer to the girl. Alison is so likeable because she’s such an honest, real and down-to-earth character. When she suspects herself of killing Tori, she doesn’t go on an alround-search looking for what exactly made the girl desintegrate, no, she actually feels guilty and let that guilt lead her for a while, which is the most plausible human reaction to that. She isn’t feisty or full of leadersihp-qualities (been there, done that) but she’s actually a lot like every other normal person out there. It was refreshing to see her interact with other characters. I loved Alison from the start, and it’s been a long while since I’ve liked a fictional character as much as I like her.

Furthermore, I think R.J. Anderson had a strike of brilliance when she decided to let this story take place in a mental institution. We meet a lot of girls and boys Alison’s age, who each have had their own difficulties in life that made them end up in an asylum. It could be that they were abandoned by their abusive parents, or that they hear voices talking to them, or that they suffer from anorexia. The bottom line is that by putting so many different people together, with each of them a different backstory and a different way of dealing with their emotions and the things that trouble them in life, the author succeeds in offering us a very wide specturm of characters, each of them unique and interesting in their own way, and that when she puts all these personalities together, it just works. Gone are the stereotypes of high-school jock, preppy prom queen wanna-be and misfits. Meet the social outcasts extraordinaire: the young adults in the mental institution. Sorry high-school stereotypes, but you will not be missed.

I wish I could express in words how much I want to praise Ultraviolet. I love the setting, the characters, the mention of an actual medical condition, the addition of atleast some paranormal-stuff near the end, etc. And you know what I loved most of all? There isn’t really any bad guy or villain around. Dr. Mina, Alison’s psychiatrist, isn’t an evil mastermind in disguise, waiting to pray on the weak and delusional. Not all nurses in Pine Hills are equally charming, but none of them is Cruella DeVille either. Although skeptical and quite afraid of her daughter at first, Alison’s mom isn’t really portrayed as a bad person either. We all make mistakes, we all do things we wish we shouldn’t have done. The uniqueness of this story is once again displayed as there really is no single bad guy or villain here. R.J. Anderson managed to write a story where we don’t need a villain or the epic battle between good and evil (again, been there, done that) to stay focused on the narrative and to keep on enjoying the storyline.

And might I add one thing more? Sebastian Faraday, you are the best. If I was still a teenager, I would so have a teenage crush on you. But now I’m all grown-up and I can’t fall in love with fictional characters anymore, but boy. In terms of love interest, Sebastian really has it all. He is kind, understanding, the listening ear for Alison when she needs it the most, intelligent, humorous and willing to sacrifice himself both for the people he loves as well as for the greater good. The only thing I can say that wasn’t utterly and completely perfect in this book was the lack of scenes featuring Sebastian. Sure, he was featured just about every chapter since half-way the book, but still! More! More! Give me more!

EVERYONE – and that includes you, your eighty-year-old grandmother, your pets, your little but severely annoying sister, your school teacher, your nextdoor neighbour, the President of the United States, Britney Spears and those space aliens who landed in Roswell in the 1950s – should read Ultraviolet. This is the most surprising, original, thrilling, suspenseful young adult book I have read all year, and trust me when I say I’ve read plenty so far. It might even be the most original book I’ve read in my entire life. It offers everything you can dream of in young adult fiction: characters you will fall in love with from page one, a storyline that is suspenseful enough to keep you reading at five am at night, intriguing plot twists, a highly original and unique setting and a writing style that will keep you in awe from page one till the very end. R.J. Anderson, I officially love you.

Comments

  1. Ultraviolet is quite a surprise 🙂

  2. Wow, that’s one epic review, Majanka! Fabulous, so detailed and thorough, I learned a lot about this book thanks to you and I can’t wait to read it now! It does sound like an awesome and unique read, the cover looks great and if only I could stop the time flow and curl up on my couch.. I’d read for like a year straight, devouring all the fantastic new releases! Why is there so little time for all these amazing books…??? T_T

    Anyhoo! Just wanted to add that I LOVE your name! It’s so… tasty 😀 LOL

  3. Stephanie says:

    AMAZING review! I have this one of my TBR list, but after reading this, I’m definitely bumping it up to read it soon. I’m so excited to get to it!

  4. will there be another book out?

  5. im not old enough to read ‘young adults’ books yet (and its so annoying coz a sneak peek is in the back of the book: arrow which i am reading and THATS a child fiction book

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