To quote R. J. Anderson’s biography:
Born in Kampala, Uganda, and raised in various parts of Ontario, Rebecca has spent much of her life dreaming of other worlds entirely. As a child she immersed herself in fairy tales, mythology, and the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and E. Nesbit; later she found inspiration in books by Ursula LeGuin, Patricia A. McKillip and Robin McKinley, and learned to take as much pleasure from the authors’ lyrical style as the stories they told.
Now married and a mother of three, Rebecca reads to her sons the classic works of fantasy and science fiction that enlivened her own childhood, and tries to bring a similar excitement and timeless wonder to the novels she writes for children and teens. She lives in the beautiful theatre town of Stratford, Ontario1.
2011’s Ultraviolet is the first book in R. J. Anderson’s Ultraviolet series.
Sixteen-year-old Alison Jeffries wakes up with no idea where she is or how she got there. She soon learns she is immured in the Pine Hills Psychiatric Treatment Centre. Her mother has finally succeeded in having Alison committed.
Perhaps it is for the best. Alison does recall disintegrating Victoria Beaugrand. While that may be the delusion of a madwoman, the fact that nobody has seen Tori since the day Alison turned up raving and covered in blood suggests it is not.
While the police would like to focus on what role Alison might have played in Tori’s disappearance, Pine Hill’s Dr. Minta takes a more treatment-oriented approach. Confident that they have sufficient understanding of Alison’s condition to treat her, Minta puts Alison on appropriate meds and provides her with counselling. Minta has a plan for Alison and that plan involves a long but effective process, at the end of which Alison will be a happy, useful member of society.
Alison is convinced that whatever happened to Tori, she is not otherwise insane. She should be allowed to leave the facility. There is a formal process she can use to appeal for release, but with the doctors and her mother against her, the odds of success appear slim.
Dr. Sebastian Faraday, a visiting neuropsychologist, seems to be Alison’s one medical ally in her struggle to escape. He believes that the other doctors and Alison’s mother have fundamentally misunderstood Alison’s condition. He suggests that she might have synesthesia, then announces that tests have confirmed his diagnosis. She has been undiagnosed and misunderstood by everyone … including her mother.
This would be wonderful news if only Faraday were the doctor he claims to be. Or even if Alison’s memories were the delusions her doctors think they are, not the memory of a terrible event. An event that may well happen again.
Ultraviolet begins with this memorable line.
“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.”
Aren’t Chosen Ones annoying? Victoria certainly is the One, at least from Alison’s perspective. Not only is Victoria beautiful, rich, and talented, Alison’s synesthesia makes being near Victoria intensely unpleasant.
This is an interesting subversion of Young Adult tropes to introduce someone as the Special One, only to immediately reveal they are the Girl Who Didn’t Survive. In fact, Victoria subverts the standard Chosen One tropes in several ways, although to reveal howwould be a spoiler. Or several spoilers.
It’s also interesting that Alison’s mom is mistaken, but not a complete monster. The mom fears that Alison has inherited the family tendency toward schizophrenia. That’s rational. It’s how mom manages her fear that has done the damage. She has insisted that Alison be silent about anything that might hint of mental illness. When it is all too clear that Alison needs help, mom overreacts. That was so clear to me that I was a bit surprised that the therapist allowed herself to be swayed by Mrs. Jeffries exaggerated fears.
Although the novel is billed as science fiction, a lot of it is fairly mundane. Life in a psychiatric institution is pretty much the same whether one hallucinated that one saw a schoolmate being disintegrated or if one really did see a schoolmate disintegrated and did not handle the experience well. Once Alison is committed, she has to deal with the doctors and fellow patients, both of whom present their challenges. Though without venturing into the melodramatic excess of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest .
There is a sequel to this, one which I am going to have to seek out. It’s not clear to me where the story could go, after the way the novel ended.
Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com
- Stratford is not technically in Waterloo County. It’s in Perth, right next door. Perth is a less populated, more rural county. It’s only charitable to allow someone who lives there to glory in the shared glow of the futurist metropolis that is Kitchener and to a less extent, Waterloo. As we say in Kitchener, at least it’s not Galt.