LUX LANGLEY is a teenager with a secret, and everyone knows it but her. After blacking out at a party she wakes in hospital, and while the doctors tell her she’s physically fine, the pain in her head, and her dreams drenched in red, suggest otherwise.
Intrigue piles on intrigue in this debut Young Adult (YA) novel by Lydia Ruffles, and the reader is taken deep into the inner-world of a girl whose health is unravelling.
Mental health has entered the mainstream of YA fiction in recent years, but accurate depictions of disability remain few and far between. As someone with a history of vestibular migraine, Ruffles’s writing on invisible illness is truthful and nuanced, and Lux will be recognisable to many young people who struggle with either physical or mental health problems.
While some writers use disability as little more than a plot device, there’s a satisfying depth to Lux’s struggle to piece her memory, and her health, back together. As you’d expect from someone whose lived with chronic illness, Ruffles provides no easy solution to her heroine’s problems, and The Taste of Blue Light is all the better for it.
While disability is under-represented in YA fiction, Lux’s art school is a playful subversion of a common setting. Richdeane is a precocious, free-spirited place, where the students are known as Artists, and their school motto, “We give it to art, and we let go”, is lived without a trace of irony.
Lux’s natural wit and caustic observations provide a nice counter-balance to this pretentious place, but she remains a youthfully naïve and idealistic main character. As she attempts to piece the shards of her memory back together, she pivots between dissociative episodes, guilt, and hopefulness.
Through it all, her desire to recapture her old life manifests in ill-judged attempts to be sociable, and a mistimed relationship with the enigmatic Cal.
The result is a narrative that captures both the usual and the unlikely trials of being a teen in trouble. Although the big reveal seemed a little improbable to me, The Taste of Blue Light is an ambitious and sensitively-handled exploration of teenage trauma and illness. And if you can suspend your disbelief, it’s a poetic and dramatic debut.
The Taste of Blue Light, by Lydia Ruffles, Hodder, RRP £12.99, 352 pages.
By Laura Elliott