January 09, 2012

Ultraviolet


by R. J. Anderson
Carolrhoda Lab
978-0-7613-7408-4
303 pp.
Ages 14+
2011

R. J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter (HarperCollins Canada, 2009) and Wayfarer (HarperCollins Canada, 2010), continues her foray into speculative fiction, but this time immersed in the issue of youth mental health, a reality that could read like fiction.

Waking up in a hospital, Alison Jeffries learns quickly that she has been admitted to a psychiatric department after a psychotic episode that had her harming herself and assaulting  a police officer.  Upon her transfer to Pine Hills, a youth facility, she realizes that another Gr. 10 student from her school, Tori Beaugrand, disappeared on the same day of Alison's crisis, and that many believe that Alison had something to do with the girl's disappearance.  Of course, it also might be because Alison claimed that she'd made Tori disintegrate.

Because of her interactions with Constable Deckard (who returns several times to question her memory of the day's events), her therapy sessions with Dr. Minta (who seems to see every action of Alison's in terms of psychoses), visits from her family (or lack thereof), and a visit from her best friend, Melissa, Alison spends much of her weeks in Pine Hills recalling that day's events, particularly her memory of seeing Tori vanish before her eyes.  She believes that she might have always been "crazy", recollecting her mother's reaction to her sharing the colours and shapes and smells she associates with random items and feelings.

While she learns to interact with her Pine Hills' peers, who deal with anorexia, bipolar disorder, depression, paranoia, etc., her most significant relationship is established with the young Dr. Sebastian Faraday, a neuropsychologist from South Africa, whose unique violet eyes and startling beauty assure and calm her.  Faraday identifies Alison as a synesthete, one of only 4% of the population whose senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) are interconnected.  Convinced that Alison is not crazy and that she is not responsible for Tori's disappearance, Faraday becomes a strong emotional support for Alison, causing some awkwardness for flirtatious patient, Kirk, whose anger and jealousy are brought to the surface, resulting in a destructive fire, the removal of Faraday from Pine Hills, and permission for Alison to visit home.

But, that is hardly the end of the story.  A whole new set of circumstances bring Alison's relationship with Faraday and the "madness" of her experiences with Tori into play, demonstrating the speculative nature of Ultraviolet.  Telling you any more than that would destroy the systematic "aha" moments that bring this story to its unpredictable resolution.  Fortunately, the story has not concluded, since a sequel, tentatively titled Quicksilver, is slated for publication in 2013.

R. J. Anderson seems to whip up amazing plots that are rich in their interconnectedness and their complexity, here taking mental health issues and wrapping them in fantastical elements, playing down the fear and anxiety of mental illness while revealing much about it.  Her characters can be enigmas, not unlike most of us, who change their minds and alter their behaviour, sometimes without apparent rationale.  But, they ultimately reveal themselves as complex beings and begin to see and be seen beyond first impressions.  Creating empathetic characters in speculative fiction is a skill that R. J. Anderson has demonstrated repeatedly, recognizing that the richness of her characters can carry any bizarre plot she may be imaginative enough to create. 

 
 Uploaded by on Mar 30, 2011

The publisher, Carolrhoda Lab, is an imprint of Lerner Publishing, who has posted this very brief trailer for Ultraviolet.

Spoiler alert: If you'd like to see a Fan trailer for "Ultraviolet"that focuses on Alison and Faraday, check out this link BUT it does include a spoiler not revealed in this review.

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