This uniquely imaginative and intelligent novel was a terrifically melded blend of mystery, science fiction, fantasy and young-adult genres. Told through the eyes and life of Alison Jeffries, a seventeen year old girl, Alison is both a very unreliable narrator and a hugely sympathetic character. R.J. Anderson truly achieved the voice, and attitude of a sullen, hurting young woman. Alison is a living, breathing, three-dimensional character filled with flaws, virtues and humanity. As Alison, the narrative is filled with passion and viable emotions and thoughts. Her wry (and often self-deprecating) humor were dead on the mark for a teenager who has been taught to be ashamed of all she is and can do.
This is a novel that was crafted with delicacy and much planning. It is laden with clues, subtle hints, and hidden meanings deep in the imagery-heavy, sensory-rich prose. I do not feel that revealing Alison has synesthesia as a spoiler -- it's out mentioned in the in the ads. Words, numbers, sounds all have personalities, colors, smells thanks to her possessing five different kinds of the phenomenon. Alison, while driving in a car states, "[...]I wanted to hear the landscape, taste its contours, and smell its hues," as only she can. Her amazingly vivid condition fits the lush style of the writing well: it's as close as the reader will ever get to experience life the way Alison does. I was so interested in this very real condition that I researched it online and I am beyond impressed with the depth of research and history Anderson went to in order for this story to work on the levels it does. (Wikipedia link if you're interested in a quick over-view. And you should be.)
I enjoyed the fresh scenery: I've not read any hardly any novels set in Canada and the change of scene was a nice harbinger of the individuality to follow. The atmosphere of the story was completely enveloping. Even necessary the parts of the novel (for example Part One was The Scent of Yesterday, chapters are titled Zero (Is Translucent), One (Is Gray), Ten (Is Vulnerable), etc.) are subtle reminders that hearken back to the most fascinating aspect of the novel: Alison's abilities. The first part of the novel focuses much more on the mystery aspect of Alison's story: what exactly did happen to Tori, and was Alison in any way responsible for Tori's death/disappearance. Part one was intense and impossible to extract myself from as the pieces were slowly revealed. The more Alison pulls herself and her memory together, details about the mysterious event are doled out like nuggets of gold. The true events of the mystery are parceled out so stingily, for the first hundred pages I genuinely could not decide if I believed Alison was sane or not. Now that's an unreliable narrator: one who does not even trust herself or her recollections. Part two (Present Sense) suffers just a bit from a rushed, slightly uneven tempo. For instance, Alison has a quasiromance with the alluring Faraday, but it is rushed into and very present, but then never coalesces into a relationship. But, happily, the problem was short-lived: part three (Touching Tomorrow) managed to be well-rounded, nicely executed and soulful conclusion to a delightfully surprising novel. The ending is more bitter than sweet, but is entirely appropriate and fitting for Alison's journey. There are a few opportunities and plot-lines left open for exploration in a possible sequel, one I can only hope is written soon.