Ultraviolet, by RJ Anderson, Reviewed

RJ Anderson just keeps getting better and better. If you have some last-minute shopping to do for a teen-girl-reader today, pick up a copy of Ultraviolet.

Alison wakes up in a hospital confused, missing some memory, and thinking she’s crazy. She spends most of the book, trying to figure out how she killed a girl and made the body disappear. She knows she never intended to kill the girl. There’s no question that whatever she did, it was an accident, so the reader is rooting for Allison from the beginning, wanting her to find out what happened to the girl.

I loved this book. It’s not really my type of book, but RJ Anderson has done it to me again. I didn’t like faery books until she sucked me with Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter, so I trusted her enough to start Ultraviolet even though a gal in a mental hospital sounds a little depressing to me.

I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the back cover copy:

Once upon the time there was a girl who was special.
This is not her story.
Unless you count the part where I killed her. 

I’m so glad I started the book, because once I started, I couldn’t put it down.

Alison is a wonderful main character. She’s smart, she’s vulnerable, she’s honest, she’s actively trying to solve her problems. I loved this girl. And her story is gripping because there is a mystery that I was dying to find the answer to. The book is not a mystery, though, even though it contains a mystery. It’s not a coming of age, even though the heroine does come of age. It’s not a romance, even though there is romance. It’s not contemporary, though it starts in the present day. It’s not a sci-fi, though it contains futuristic elements.

I don’t know what it is exactly.

I mean, at the end I know, but to tell you ahead of time would ruin the story for you. Is it a contemporary about a girl fighting mental illness, or is it a medical thriller, or is it sci-fi? That’s all part of the mystery that kept me reading through the book. Allison thinks she killed a girl. Not only that, she thinks she disintegrated the girl. Is she crazy, or did it really happen? How could it happen? Why does she think she did this?

This is one of the smartest, most gripping books I’ve read in the past several years. It reminds me of When You Reach Me in the melding of genres. And while it entertains with the mystery, it also gives us a fascinating look at synesthesia and a very real look at the inside of a mental institution. I have visited a beloved brother in mental wards often, and Anderson nails this aspect of the book.

This story is probably one that people will love or hate, though. I’m not sure about that, but I can see where the twist at the end would bother some readers. It was actually foreshadowed, but I can see where some people would be thrown off balance by it.

I loved the book. Loved. The. Book. I thought the writing was phenomenal, the characters were compelling, the mystery was gripping, and the ending was wonderful. But I guessed at the ending half way through. I suspected, at least, the direction it was going. There were clues.

So my recommendation is that you buy this one and read it with an open mind. Enjoy the lovely writing and the smart heroine. Here’s a sample taken at random:

For the first time in my life, the thought crossed my mind that I might be better off dead. Not that I had any real intention of committing suicide–in fact the thought had barely occurred to me before I shoved it into the dustiest, most cobwebby corner of my mental attic. 

And another one:

I would rather have swallowed a live puffer fish and chased it down with broken glass, but I could hardly say no. 

This girl is smart, and she has a distinctive voice because she has such a unique way of viewing and hearing the world, and because she’s been raised to believe she’s probably mentally ill. But despite her tough life, she’s not mean. She’s got the wit of the New York attitude without the mean, sarcastic edge. I loved her–really thought she was wonderful–and I hope we see a sequel where some time has passed and old friends find each other. (Please, Ms. Anderson.)

And if you have a teen girl with a Kindle, you can download it for Christmas without any trouble at all. A great stocking-stuffer, this one.
Sally Apokedak wishes she could write as well as RJ Anderson and plans to read Ultraviolet over again, to study the character in an attempt to see why she was so lovable.  

Sally is represented by Reclaim Management. Her short works have been published in various magazines,including Highlights for Children, she blogs about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com., and she’d be thrilled if you would go over there and check out a sample of The Button Girl, one of her YA manuscripts.