Sunday 16 June 2013

#CBR5 Book 55. "Ultraviolet" by R.J. Anderson

Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Alison is sixteen, and currently residing in a mental institution. Ever since she was little, she's know she's not quite like everyone else. To her, words have distinct tastes and colours. Certain sounds can make her see things. She feels physically sick if she herself tries to lie, and can taste it in the back of her mouth if people are lying or not. Loud noises give her fits. She's suspected of the murder of the most popular and perfect girl in her school, Tori Beaugrand, and only Alison knows why the authorities haven't been able to find a body. Tori Beaugrand disintegrated in front of Alison's eyes, after they had a terrible fight. How insane is that?

Alison doesn't want to stay sectioned, and tries to appeal to be released. Yet her mother is afraid to keep her at home with her younger brother, and the doctors at the institution want her to take her anti-psychotic drugs so she can get better. The police want to know where Tori Beaugrand is, and why Alison came home, distraught, with bloody hands. As the weeks pass, Alison no longer knows what the truth is. Only the enigmatic young scientist Sebastian Faraday seems to believe that Alison is innocent. He performs a number of cognitive tests on her, and explains that what she and her mother always believed was madness, and have kept hidden from everyone, is actually just synesthesia, and that she has a particularly complex form of it. His further testing seems to suggest that she also has the ability to see lights on the ultraviolet spectrum. With each new meeting, Sebastian puts Alison's mind more at ease, and when she confesses what happened to Tori, he actually seems to believe her.

Then the doctors reveal to Alison that Sebastian is not who he claims to be. He's not a grad student, but a journalist, and his motives for coming to see Alison in the hospital were unlikely to be charitable. Yet Alison discovers that the reason he lied to her is stranger than she could have imagined, and the reason he believes in her innocence, is because he knows what actually happened to Tori.

I found Ultraviolet through a very glowing review on The Book Smugglers, and put it on my TBR list, and then promptly forgot about it, because I discover intriguing sounding books all the time. Besides, the cover looked so very generic, and there were so many other shiny things to distract me. I decided to give this a try, because the sequel (where Tori Beaugrand is the even more awesome than Alison protagonist) starts with a Q, and that's not the easiest thing to find for my A to Z challenge. I was pretty instantly engrossed, and because I'd consciously tried not to find out too much about the book, I was very surprised by the twists and turns it took.

While I grew fond of Alison over the course of the book, she's prickly and sullen and not the easiest of characters to like at first. It's pretty obvious early on (if you've ever heard of or read about synesthesia) that what she considers part of her insanity is something that could have been diagnosed if her mother had been less rigid and paranoid about doctors (it is revealed over the course of the book where that fear comes from, though). The fact that she believes she saw a person dissolve into thin air in front of her eyes, that's more of a mystery. While she may not be insane, you start to realise, as the book progresses, why she's never exactly been a popular kid in school, and while it's obvious that she's not insane or a murderer, she could probably be a bit more gracious about accepting help from people. Luckily, while she's slow to adapt, she does change, and becomes a lot more easy to root for by the end of the book.

I really liked the world building in this book, and that something that I thought was just another YA novel with mystery elements turned out to be something completely different. The supporting characters are incredibly well developed, and none of them seem to be your stock "troubled teen asylum inmate" tropes that a lesser writer might have resorted to. There is a tiny romantic subplot with the always mysterious (but so much more strange than I first expected) Sebastian, and the last third of the book especially, was surprising and very well done. I'm trying as hard as I can not to give anything away, because these books are better if you don't know too much going in. Give this book a try, it's miles above a lot of YA fare out there.

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