Review: Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson

Ultraviolet - R.J. Anderson

You know that old tag-line for those awesome sweets, Skittles - "taste the rainbow"?! Welcome to Alison of Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson's world!! She has a condition/gift/anomaly whereby she can taste colours and lies, see the colour of numbers, feel sounds. What she has is called synesthesia which is a phenomenon in that the brain's wiring relating to senses and memories is tangled and intertwined (I'm describing this in a very simplistic way. If you want to learn more you should read chapter 3 of The Tell-Tale Brain by VS Ramachandran. He explains it waaaay better than I ever could) in a way that certain memories are experienced alongside sensations. One of the most common examples of this amazing ability is that numbers are often "seen" in the mind's eye as a specific colour, but sounds, smells and tastes can be wrapped up in all kinds of different memories like songs, shapes and textures. It's pretty amazing and studying people who have synesthesia can offer some really incredible insights into the geography of our brains. But I won't get into that just now .....


Alison has synesthesia and everyone is very keen to label her as cray-cray, possibly because she flipped out and ranted and raved all over the place about murdering her school mate and nemesis, Tori by vaporisation. But all is not as it seems as Alison is shipped off to a teenage psychiatric unit and is forced to question her own sanity and if she can truly believe what she sees with her own eyes.

I can't give much else away about the plot of Ultraviolet without spoiling it completely as there's one helluva twist at the end. Let's just say this is not the book you think it is. I read a lot of YA, and pretty often they all seem to follow a very similar formula and it's easy to find yourself stuck in a real reading-rut. And then along comes a surprising, fresh and unique story like Ultraviolet and your hope and enthusiasm for the genre is restored!!


Yeah there's a romantic subplot, like most YA, involving the almost uncomfortably mysterious Sebastian Faraday but we're not walking the well worn path of sexist, preying-on-the-weak, I'm-a-girl-so-I-can't-live-without-a-man bullshit we've all come to know and dread here. Alison and Faraday's relationship is interesting and progressive. Allison feels that Faraday is the only one who understands her when he appears at the hospital in the name of Synesthesia Research one afternoon. Faraday is fascinated with the extent of Alison's ability which appears much more advanced and far reaching than most synesthetes. They grow to develop a mutual love and respect for each other. Until Faraday drops a massive bomb at the end of the story. I won't spoil it though. It's the best part!!


I love the development of Alison's character. Alison is described by her peers at the beginning of the story as stuck up, snobby and just plain cold. She never reaches out to anyone, and has a very hard time connected to others. In reality she suffers from cripplingly low self esteem and deemed herself worthless, a freak!! She found it easier to cope with her, at times overwhelming sensory overload due to her synesthesia by closing herself off from the world, and rather than sharing her problems and letting people in - people who could help her - she pushed everyone away. Through meeting Faraday, discovering some truths about her mother's past and secrets her family had kept hidden through shame and fear, Alison realised that locking herself away from the world was only making her problems worse:


"I realised then that even though I was a tiny speck in an infinite cosmos, a blip on the timeline of eternity, I was not without purpose. And as long as I had a part in the music of the spheres, even if it was only a single grace note, I was not worthless. Nor was I alone."


I love this quote. Life can seem so short, so fleeting and at times, so meaningless that to find your place in life, even if that place is tiny and seemingly insignificant, gives your stay here on earth some purpose. And purpose is what gets us out of bed in the morning.


This is totally not the sort of book I usually enjoy. It's very somber and steady going most of the way through (I hesitate to say slow, but in honesty the pacing is why I knocked a point off my rating) and it takes such a bizarre turn in the final 10% that I think you'll probably either go nuts for it or be tearing your hair out over it. But for me it worked because the characterisation was strong, the writing for lyrical and flowing and the setting was well established. And as bonus the cover is lush!!


Over and out guys!! Happy 2014!!