"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."
Alison is a 16 year old girl who wakes up in a mental hospital. She has no memory of how she got there, but as time and therapy soon show, her last memory before her psychological breakdown was of a fellow classmate, Tori, disintegrating.
Tori has since gone missing, and the community and police suspect Alison. She was the last one to see Tori and was found with Tori's blood on her hands. Alison believes that her rare abilities may have killed Tori.
Immediately, I picked up on the fact that the narrator is a synesthete. Synesthesia is when different neural pathways in the brain, connect different regions related to senses. Because of this, Alison can see music, taste voices, hear what she sees, etc. A very common form of synesthesia is assigning colors and personalities to numbers and letters. For example, in the image below, the left is how you would see the image if you were in the majority of the population, but the right is how you might view it if you had synesthesia:
Because of this rather fascinating character trait, the book, written in first person, is full of sensory descriptions, and it's totally appropriate because the character narrating the story is a synesthete! I loved the world the author painted for the reader from Alison's point of view, it was a huge brain treat.
Unfortunately, for Alison, her mother was scared of her daughter's phenomenal sense perception, and made made Alison ashamed of her sensory abilities. Because of this, Alison always hid what she could "see" from others. Eventually, Alison meets a friendly scientist with striking violet eyes, and as she starts to learn more about herself as he studies her at the mental institution.
The big part of the book, the part that has me still thinking, and what really made this work, is that Alison is most definitely NOT a reliable narrator. She is in a mental institution and evidence shows she may have murdered a classmate. As the book progresses, her perceptions of reality change drastically and her abilities as a synesthete begin to amplify (which isn't normal even for synesthetes).
I don't want discuss the end of the story because I fear to ruin it, but this novel definitely crosses a couple of genres, making it difficult for me to label (which is a good thing). I also think that because our narrator is so unreliable, the end of the story is rather open ended, as we have no one else confirming "what happened" other than Alison.
This novel is an amalgam of different genres; it is paranormal, a psychological thriller, a murder mystery, and even science fiction. As the reader begins to think they are in for a certain kind of story, they get pulled in a completely different direction. It also made me think about a lot of questions pertaining to the nature of an individual's perceptions and "absolute reality," and is there such a thing?
I would recommend this book to most teens. It's a lot of fun.