Title: UltravioletAuthor: R.J. Anderson
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group/Carolrhoda Lab
Release Date: September 2011
Pages: 304 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: Review copy from 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 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.
When Alison wakes up in St. Luke's, she can hardly remember anything from the past two weeks or how she got in the hospital in the first place. Over the next few days, it all comes back to her: the fight with school golden girl Tori Beaugrand and how Tori disintegrated into nothing. Confined to Pine Hills and forced to take medication she doesn't need to (or does she? Her mother always feared this would happen and her perceptions of seeing sounds and tasting words aren't exactly normal), Ali just wants to go home and have everything be normal again. Sessions with Dr. Faraday, a neuropsychologist, enlighten her on her condition, properly known as synthesia, and show her that there's far more to the world than what she knows.
Before I begin, let me just say this is one book that I think desperately needs an audiobook. Reading it was an emotional enough for experience for me, but self-spoken readings of Ali's perceptions and one specific segment at the book's closing reduced me to tears. The written version is amazing in and of itself, but a proper audiobook with a good narrator behind it would make the experience out of this world.
Alison's character and situation is very sympathetic. Long fascinated with the disorder thanks to an article I read as a child, I recognized her synthesia immediately. How horrible for her to be led to believe it was a bad thing! Her descriptions of the world around her viewed through the lens of her synthesia were usually lovely, though the descriptions had a few flubs or were just strange even considering her disorder. The events surrounding what happened between her and Tori and what actually happened unfolded slowly--not so slow that I became frustrated, but enough that it made Ultraviolet a quick read.
While I loved how Alison handled what happened with Kirk, I wish she or some other character could have taken a moment out of their day to call Kirk out on his casual gay jokes. The way he used it made it seem as though being gay would be a bad thing wasn't that funny and I'm sick of word "gay" being used as an insult to something. I get enough of that from my brother (and I don't want to get into how many kinds of -ist he is) and I'd like to avoid seeing it in my books without objections to the word being used that way.
YA authors who have difficulty characterizing their minor characters with anything other than "mean girl," "best friend," "mean mom," and other such short labels (I could name them, but that would be rude; I don't think they deserve that respect for multiple reasons, but I'll give it to them because I'm supposed to Be Nice(tm) or some crap like that) ought to be given a copy of this book and forced to study it until their own works show some improvement. Side characters such as Tori, Micheline, and Alison's mom are all deeper than they first appear. Just because a character seems to be filling a "mean girl" role or another role doesn't mean they're actually what they're first cast as or that they don't have depth.
If you're expecting this to be only a YA contemporary novel about a girl put in a mental institution, be warned that it's a genre-bender. A little over halfway through, it's suddenly revealed that BAM!--new genre. I had a small case of "seriously?" when I summed up one major subplot in my head, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good. It was actually very good (my concerns about their relationship dynamic because of how they came to know each other aside). I just have that reaction when I think about certain things in plain terms. I reacted the same way when I heard about Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, which is about killer unicorns, and then it turned out to be an awesome book. Basically, it seems silly or ridiculous, but it's much better than it sounds.
Am I actually going to tell you what inspired that reaction? Nope! I'd like to keep this review spoiler-free, thank you (or as spoiler-free as I can get).