Title: Ultraviolet

Author: R.J. Anderson

Genre: Young Adult, Speculative Fiction, Contemporary

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab (US) / Orchard Books (UK)
Publication Date: September 2011 (US) / June 2011 (UK)
Hardcover: 306 pages

“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 wakes up in a mental institution. As she pieces her memory back together, she realizes she’s confessed to murdering Tori Beaugrand, the most perfect girl at school. But the case is a mystery. Tori’s body has not been found, and Alison can’t explain what happened. One minute she was fighting with Tori. The next moment Tori disintegrated — into nothing.

But that’s impossible. No one is capable of making someone vanish. Right? Alison must be losing her mind—like her mother always feared she would.

For years Alison has tried to keep her weird sensory abilities a secret. No one ever understood—until a mysterious visiting scientist takes an interest in Alison’s case. Suddenly, Alison discovers that the world is wrong about her — and that she’s capable of far more than anyone else would believe.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher (via BEA)

Why did I read this book: I have read nothing but praise for this title and this author from some very trusted sources. Naturally, with so many cryptic reviews floating around, I had to give it a go.

Review:

“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.”

So begins Alison’s strange, mind-bending tale of mystery and madness. At nearly seventeen years old, Alison has always been reserved and cautious around her family and her peers because she has always had a secret to hide. While others experience reality through regular senses, Alison has the ability to taste colors and feel the trustworthiness of alphabetical letters; in short, she has the ability to perceive of the world in a whole new dimension of sensation. From a young age, Alison has learned that she must never speak of her perceptions for fear of looking crazy or being pushed away, as she has been time and again by her classmates and even her own mother.

But one day, Alison’s darkest, most secret fear comes to light when she awakens in a cold, clinical room with no recollection of where she is or how she got there. She finds herself an involuntary patient in a mental institution, checked in after violently lashing out at her mother and the police after confessing to the murder of classmate Tori Beaugard. While the police cannot prove that she killed Tori, Alison was the last person seen with her. As she struggles to put the pieces together of her fragmented memory and tries to find a way to be discharged, Alison discovers that her perceptions are more than the delusions of a crazy person – and that she may have abilities beyond anyone else’s reckoning.

Ultraviolet is the first novel I’ve read from R.J. Anderson, and I must say that I am incredibly impressed and surprised. The greatest strength of this Canadian genre-spanning novel is its element of surprise – upon starting Ultraviolet, I had no idea what kind of novel it would be. Would it be a contemporary YA title about an unreliable narrator that has tragically lost her grip on reality due to the myriad traumas of her home and school life? Would it be a paranormal book about a misunderstood teen that discovers she has superpowers of unknown origin? The truth lies somewhere in between. Alison is a misunderstood girl that has learned to hide not only her perceptive abilities but also her feelings, out of fear of being hated, pushed away, or thought of as insane. She’s also not simply “crazy” – there are explanations and layers to her condition, which are unfolded gradually over the book. While I won’t define how this happens, or what exactly this story entails (therein lie some huge spoilers, and with a book like Ultraviolet, it’s best experienced going in completely ignorant), I will say that I loved the unexpected, genre-transcending elements of the novel.

From a writing standpoint, too, Ms. Anderson’s prose to describe Alison’s sensations are brilliant and feel effortless. Take for example this section:

A tastes like blueberries – the kind that grow wild around here, not the big watery ones you get in stores. B is like those candy hearts they sell around Valentine’s Day. And C doesn’t have a flavor exactly, it’s more like a very light perfume. Then there’s D.” I began to layer shades of blue and green, trying to get the right intensity of teal. “D has hidden depths, it’s sort of mysterious…”

In addition to the style and the story, I think Ultraviolet also succeeds with the strength of its unreliable heroine. We know little about Alison when the book begins other than the fact that she has awoken in a strange place and has no clue as to how she got there – but as her memories begin to return and her perceptions filter through the narrative, we begin to see a complete picture of a young girl that has been isolated, starved for affection and human interaction. We see her strained relationship with her mother, her distant relationship with her father, her friendships with those at Pine Hills Psychiatric and those at home. It’s a tragic picture, but one that Alison is able to finally put together for herself by the end of the novel as she realizes how isolated she has made herself. Alison’s transformation across the spectrum of the book is phenomenal, and though Ultraviolet ends on a bittersweet note, Alison finally discovers who she is and what she is worth. And that, dear readers, rocks.

I truly loved this book – although the big twist (you know there has to be one in this type of story!) is bound to put off some readers, I personally loved it. Ultraviolet is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it to all.

Notable Quotes/Parts: I loved this particular passage:

The night before my eighth birthday, I went to bed early, giddy with the thought of presents in the morning. It took me a long while to trick myself to sleep, and when I did, it was only to be shocked awake moments later by a thunderclap so loud it shook the house. It couldn’t have lasted longer than three or four seconds, even with the storm right overhead. But to me that terrible noise seemed to go on forever. Pillars of rust and ocre loomed across my vision, threatening to topple and crush me flat. I held my breath, my small body rigid with alarm – but then the sound faded, taking the giant shapes with it.

I waited a moment, fearfully testing the silence, then tried to settle myself once more. But my head had barely touched the pillow when lightning fractured the darkness, stinging my eyes and searing my tongue like pepper. Then the clouds exploded and the rain came hissing down, pelting my window and my ears with bruising force. I cowered beneath the covers, not knowing which would shatter first, the glass or me.

Another crash of thunder, then more lightning, while the wind whipped the trees into a leafy froth and the rain continued to pound. I pulled the blankets over my head, wishing with all my might for the faceless giants and the horrible taste in my mouth to go away – but my senses refused to listen to anything but the storm. At last I flung the covers aside, fled downt he hall to my parents’ room and collapsed by the foot of their bed, sobbing.

“Alison?” said my mother sharply. “What’s wrong?”

I’d forgotten that my father wasn’t there, that he’d gone to a conference and wouldn’t be home until tomorrow. I’d made a mistake, but it was too late to fix it now. “Maman, I’m scared. The storm, it’s so loud – ”

I tasted a buttery rustle of silk as my mother slipped out of bed to kneel beside me. I threw my arms around her waist and hid my face in her lap, hoping that this once she would hug me the way she used to, before I’d talked about gold stars and spoiled everything. But her body stiffened, and her hands closed on my shoulders, pushing me upright again.

Additional Thoughts: Book trailer! Check it out:

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

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Ebook available for kindle UK

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17 Responses to Book Review: Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

  1. Tina says:

    I really liked this one, too, and it’s also my first RJ Anderson. Mind bending and all that. :) I was sort of spoiled with the twist, but it didn’t really lessen the surprise when it actually happened. :)

  2. Michelle says:

    I’ve read Faery Rebels by this author and really liked it, so this one caught my eye when I saw it. It’s already been put on my “to read” list! Thanks for the great review. :)

  3. Kendra says:

    I dunno… synesthesia as paranormal? You’d think at some point growing up that would have been diagnosed, like, say, by her pediatrician. But if you liked it I guess she made it work :D

  4. Ooo great review! I’m definitely bumping this one up on my TBR list. :)

  5. Thea says:

    Tina – I’m so glad you liked this one too! That sucks that you were spoiled, but I’m glad that it ultimately didn’t matter to you :) Now, onto more R.J. Anderson titles, yes? Yes!

    Michelle – I think Ana’s read some of Anderson’s faery books (Knife? I think that’s the title), and enjoyed them. I’ll definitely have to check them out. Hope you like Ultraviolet!

    Kendra – Ohohoho! But there is a reason for her non-diagnosis, because of her family (particularly her mother), and Alison’s character. Of course, the only way for you to see for yourself is to read the book. Heh. So get crackin’!

    April – Yay! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  6. Kendra says:

    Ooh I’m excited now! It’s right after Daughter of Smoke and Bone on my TBR list. So many good review of late; the only downside of you guys liking all these books is my goodreads list is growing faster than I can keep up!

  7. Oh, I was hooked by that very first line, and I’m always a sucker for books about synaesthesia. Have you read Jeffrey Ford’s The Empire of Ice-Cream? That’s great, too.

  8. Kitty says:

    I just finished this book, and it was awsome! I really loved the change of genre :D
    Do you now if the author is doing a second book?

  9. Yaz. says:

    Hiya, there is a second book called quicksilver and it will be out early in 2013 as shown on her website here : http://www.rj-anderson.com/faq.htm :D

  10. Kitty says:

    Thanks! I can’t wait!!!! :-)

  11. Who am I? says:

    This book is amazing I highly recommed it! It will blow your mind! :wink:

  12. Georgia says:

    Hey Im SO gonna read this! Can someone tell me the change of genre pleasE?
    thanks x :D :D :D

  13. Kitty says:

    Do you want to know what genre it change into or how it happens? :P

  14. alec says:

    i read this book a few weeks back and i thought it was amazing! i wasn’t to happy about the sudden change of style, i liked it much more when she was in the hospital. i started to pretend i had synesthesia hopeing it would grow on me and i would actually get it :D great book :D

  15. Georgie says:

    I am only 12 years old, and Alison related to me. I loved this book, and am looking forward to reading his faery books that some of you have mentioned! :D

  16. Shaylen says:

    :-) :oops: This is a great book so far :P :D

  17. [...] from two reviewers who really loved the plot twist, check out Thea’s review over on The Book Smugglers, and/or Sandra’s review over at Clear Eyes, Full [...]

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