Good Reads #53: Ultraviolet Catastrophe

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When I first read the blurb for this book, I was hooked: a girl discovers that she’s a genius and goes to a school filled with like minded people. Once there she discovers that not all is as it seems and it takes the brain power of her and her classmates to try and find a way to save the day.

I love the premise of this book. It’s so painfully rare to find books that a) feature girls interested in STEM, let alone as protagonists and b) lets the characters be smart and uses that intelligence as a central plot point. It’s a refreshing find and a book that I think you could give to girls and be like, see? It’s cool to be in this stuff. Lexie isn’t looked down upon for being smart (if anything, upon arrival she’s looked down on either for being a perceived threat and/or possibly not being smart enough) or her abilities – she’s lauded for them. That the author found a way to take some real world physic theories and weave them into a compelling plot that’s almost like James Bond for geeks is just awesome.

Another thing that I like is that Lexie feels real: she has Issues (abandonment, self-esteem) that she earned. They’re believable and she deals with them in believable ways – she’s quick to judge her absentee father and quick to get defensive when she thinks someone is doubting her intelligence. She lashes out, as quickly as a teen can too. She gets a crush on a classmate named Asher, and yet has heard enough gossip about him to make her weary to jump in.  Even so, she is loyal to her family and develops loyalty to her friends and I do think that she makes a good role model.

All that said, I do have some nitpicks. The lesser one has to deal with the way the author uses pop culture references. For one thing, they’re jarring. The first one that I remember seeing came in 40% of the way through the book. If you’re going to use them, they should be consistent. Also, at best these references will date the book. While there might be a year or two left in a description of a “why-so-serious” smile, I’m not convinced that the intended age group will actually know who Veronica Mars is. At worst, and I hate to say this…it comes off as lazy writing and almost feels like fan-fiction, especially when she repeatedly describes Lexie’s hair as being “Hermione-like.” It doesn’t even always work either. While I know that the author means book Hermione, the Hermione in the movies doesn’t really have that hair outside of like the first film and so the readers of this book may not even get what she was going for. Just describing it as “bushy” or “unmanageable” would probably have worked better.

The biggest problem I have though, comes with the conceit of the book. As the summary explains, Lexie was drugged to keep her at “average” intelligence. As the drugs stopped working, she suddenly found herself a genius. This is all well and good; except that apparently along with a genius intelligence comes the ability to just “know” things. Lexie talks about answers popping into her head, or wondering how to do something and than suddenly just knowing how to do it. Not even looking it up once and getting it, it just there, like someone just fed the information into her brain. It’s a conceit needed for the book, because although her classmates are all high-school aged, they’re working on “graduate” level physics problems and if she doesn’t suddenly get all this there is no way that she could ever go to this school and the plot of this book wouldn’t exist. The story is good enough that it’s worth suspending disbelief, but at the same point in time I believe that the best stories can set up their world so that you don’t need to.

On the whole, I do think the author has written something unique and should be commended. If you’re into smart books, go give this a shot. As I type this, it’s a steal at $3.99 for the Kindle edition. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is a steal.

Verdict: Buy it.

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