Review: Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

so, guess what?  this book was awesome!  and guess what again?  i'm currently reading the companion / sequel, which is also awesome.  and guess what again?  the sequel comes out tomorrow!  so if i haven't convinced you to read book 2 by the time you finish this review and are dying to read book 1, then go read my review of it tomorrow! 

edit:  how did i not before realize how much this reminds me of a teenage doctor who!?  

title:  Ultraviolet

author: R.J. Anderson

pages: 306

format: Hardcover

isbn/asin: 978-0761374084

buy it: Amazon

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 9/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Lovers of Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen and Glitch by Heather Anastasiu and sci-fi and psychology and good writing and joy.

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?

the basics
I was legitimately obsessed with this book from the get-go.  I mean, how can you not want to devour it after reading just the first three lines of the blurb?  You start right in the middle of the action and Alison sucks you in.  She's unsure of herself, quiet, smart--all the things us readerly geeks were back in high school.  But she's special, too.  She smells sounds.  Tastes colors.  Listens to the music of the stars at night.  It's one of the most interesting portrayals of synethesia that I've seen, and an amazing way to turn what could be a generic genre book into something special and memorable.  The Alison-Faraday relationship weirded me out a little on grounds of age-differences-creep-me-the-hell-out, but the hopeless romantic in me was caught.  And I loved that the sci-fi was there but not overpowering; for the most part, this is a story about a girl finding herself and struggling to stay afloat in a world that tells her she's insane.  

plot . 5/5
There's no lag time.  You start right in the action and Alison helps you to catch up later.  Rather than being confusing, it's exciting.  Like solving a mystery.  You're also living inside Alison's head, because even she doesn't know what's going on at first.  The central mystery of Tori drags you into the story head-first.  Did she really disintegrate?  Was Alison hallucinating?  Did Alison kill her?  Does she have some kind of supernatural powers?  These questions stay up in the air for a long time, allowing you to feel Alison's own struggle--is what she saw real, or is she insane?  Is she a murderer?  The turn happens very suddenly, but the ending doesn't feel rushed.  What did irk me was the way Alison figured out the conversation between Mathis and Sebastian near the end.  Because it screamed deus ex machina.  But using her synesthesia as both character quirk and plot twist was brilliant.  And in the end, the plot was tight, thrilling, and well done.  

concept . 5/5
I love good portrayals of psychopathology in literature.  Synesthesia is one that hasn't been covered very much at all, but it's so interesting.  Anderson gives us a pretty accurate portrayal of intense synesthesia here, while also upping it to a kind of supernatural level to fit with the speculative nature of the story.  Adding psychology to sci-fi was another brilliant stroke.  Because the whole time, you're wondering how much is real and how much is in Alison's head.  It gives the book a deeper layer than just a hardcore sci-fi thriller would, while still being thrilling.  

characters . 5/5
I loved Alison.  She can be a little annoying at times, but in an endearing way.  She's broken.  She's been afraid her whole life of being insane.  She feels abandoned by everyone that she cared about.  The side characters are more variable.  Melissa feels thrown in just as another psychic blow to Alison; I'm not so sure that her "betrayal" is more than another way to make you feel sorry for the MC.  Alison's parents are also a little underdeveloped.  It ends there.  Alison's psychiatrist, Faraday, and the other patients are all real people in their own right, each playing an important part.  Even the small ones who seem superfluous, like Micheline, play an important role in helping to show Alison's development as a person.  It felt real.  

style . 5/5
Gorgeous.  Anderson has a sense of style that's much more mature than your average YA.  It's lyrical in places and richly descriptive, filled with sensory information.  Which is absolutely brilliant, because you can see Alison's synesthesia in the very way she talks and describes her world.  Even if synesthesia is something very foreign to you, the way Alison narrates her world allows you to jump into her head and to imagine for yourself that maybe the name Tori tastes like cough syrup and pain is violent orange.  It's beautiful, truly.  

mechanics . 5/5
Many more adjectives than I'm usually comfortable with, but as I said above, it works.  Very nicely polished.  Also, the chapter titles are brilliant.  Since Alison's brain assigns character, color, and other qualities to numbers, you get her take on each title.  For example:  Nine (is black); Twelve (is reckless).  The descriptions for each number are also cleverly descriptive of the content of each chapter.  Oh, and did I mention that nine is my favorite number and black is my favorite color?  Just sayin'.  

take home message
A refreshingly mature YA that takes sci-fi to a deeply emotional level, with a dash of danger, a twist of romance, and pages of beautiful writing.  

Note: I purchased this copy.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.


  1. I read book 1 last year and rather liked it. I got book 2 as an ARC and also liked it. However, it's been out for a while, at least on Amazon. I was surprised when I put up my review about a month ago for book 2 and found it had already been published on Amazon. Thought it was really odd.

    1. That's so ODD. The release date on goodreads was slated for March 2nd. Confusing!