Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson - Book 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.

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

I was debating whether to give this one 4 or 4.5 stars, but by rule of thumb, if I have to debate between a higher and lower rating, I always go for the lower.  But still, a 4-star rating is a really high rating from me.

I’ll start with the things that kept it from the 4.5 or even 5 star rating; Alison has a neurological condition which causes her to perceive things differently with her senses.  She can see sounds, taste words, feel certain colors, etc.  While this is an actual condition and was essential to the story, some of Anderson’s sensory descriptions were a bit over-the-top for me.  Things along the lines of, I wanted the blue, round, fuzzy taste of macaroni, and other jarringly odd descriptions of her synesthesia (the term for her condition), would occasionally take me out of my usual total immersion in the story and cause a few eye-rolls.  While I understand the need to convey synesthesia through prose to her audience, I feel there were just a few instances where Anderson overdid it.

I can’t get into it too much without spoilers, but there is a very definite romance in this book.  Normally I’m a total sucker for some romantic YA, but in the case of Ultraviolet, I feel it would have been better without the romantic aspect of it.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved both the characters, but I think their relationship would have been better had it stayed friendly, without crossing over to the butterflies-in-my-stomach, daydreaming-about-his-lips region.  Ultraviolet is a very original work, so unlike the mega-popular books dominating the YA book world, and I can’t help but feel that the romance cheapened its refreshing originality somewhat.  Though I’m probably very much in the minority on this.

Finally, the twist this novel takes in the last quarter.  I’m not sure if I liked it or not, though if not, it has more to do with my personal preferences than any flaws of the book.  It was like the twist of all twists, and changed the already odd tone of the book to downright weird very quickly.  It answered my questions perfectly, but it was a direction I so did not see Ultraviolet going in.  I can’t get into any more detail without getting spoilery, but I’ll give some props to Anderson for writing a twist I absolutely did not see coming; after years of avid book-worm-itis, I’m pretty good at spotting “big reveals” long before they’re revealed.

Now to the things I loved about Ultraviolet; Have you ever seen the movie Manic?  It’s among my favorites, and it takes place almost entirely in a mental facility for troubled teenagers.  What I loved about it was its brutal honesty without glorifying these kinds of facilities or making them too gruesome.  Ultraviolet also had that very admirable quality, which I have seen butchered so much more often than I’ve seen it given justice.  Immediately, I felt like I was there with Alison; unwaveringly sure of my sanity at first, then slowly given believable nuggets of doubt.  I met the other patients with her, and learned to see past their conditions to the vulnerable, mostly normal kids underneath.  I shared her distrust of some of the staff, whether they deserved it or not, and her trust in others.  I found myself living inside of the pages I was reading, which is the highest compliment I can give a novel.

Anderson’s writing – minus the few instances I mentioned earlier – is superb.  It’s emotional, descriptive and heart-breaking at times.  Her story is extremely original, and her characters are very well developed and three-dimensional.  She managed to take the story to an entirely different place than I could have seen coming, and do it with believability and a seamlessness that is nothing short of remarkable for just how quickly the tone changes, or by just how much.  Anderson is the type of writer I envy whenever I sit in front of my keyboard, another of the highest compliments I can give.

Overall, though there were a few minor qualms I had with this book, Ultraviolet is a book in the world of YA that should not be missed.

Ultraviolet - 4 out of 5 stars

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