The Taste of Blue Light by Lydia Ruffles
As a portrait of a troubled teenager suffering from the after effects of trauma, the cause of which is not disclosed until near the end, this novel takes the current vogue for YA novels about mental health and runs with it well with a great first line:
I will find the old Lux and when I do I will climb back inside her and sew myself into her skin so I never get lost again.
The first chapter tells us about the old Lux at the Leaver’s Ball, saying goodbye to the Upper Sixth – that’ll be her next year. It was the night she lost finally lost her virginity to Henry, a night with booze and coke and falling asleep on the ‘itchy grass’ with her best friends Olivia and Mei. It was the last perfect night Lux remembers.
One month later Lux woke up in hospital. The last thing she remembers was another party – this time at the gallery where she was doing a summer internship. She now suffers from synaesthesia, crippling headaches, red nightmares and frequent meltdowns. Her parents returned from Singapore to their London flat, but Lux just can’t cope being cooped up with them. She doesn’t know what caused her blackout – but has begged to be allowed to go back to school. However, if she’s to stay there, she needs to get better – it will be touch and go, two steps forward, sometimes more steps back and everyone is looking out for her, including Cal, who it’s said, has been through trauma of his own.
Lux as the tale’s heroine was easy to like, as were her best friends, and psychotherapist/mentor at school Dr B. I also felt for her poor parents who are unable to help her in her present condition.
What I didn’t like so much was Richdeane – Lux’s mother explains to the doctors:
It’s a school for creative children who perhaps aren’t suited to traditional education environments. There’s a lot of support for them. No television, that sort of thing.’
She was wrong, we do have TV, but Richdeane is one of those schools that claims things on the website such as ‘nurturing spirited, creative children to make autonomous and artistic choices’. That’s a euphemism for ‘your broken offspring can do what the fuck they please as long as you pay the fees’.
Yes, Lux attends a precocious and liberal, arts boarding school. We’re not told much about the school itself – only the bits that affect Lux. It would appear to be a sixth-form arts college specialising in more than just performing arts and music – it sounded like an arty US boarding school crossed with Summerhill – the famous state boarding school in Suffolk with no compulsory lessons. It comes over as American in style – students sign up for courses including culinary art(!), there are no mentions of conventional courses, maths and science. It’s a boarding school whose students indulge in sex and drugs and rock and roll whenever they can. It was a shock to discover that the school was set in the leafy Surrey commuter belt. I just couldn’t believe that a school like this exists in England – I looked for one on Google, but didn’t find any that had the range of arts Richdeane offers, ours tend to be specialised in music, dance and/or drama. I may be completely wrong about this though!
My quibbles about this mad school aside, The Taste of Blue Light is an engaging debut novel from a graduate of the Faber Academy. She writes Lux both sympathetically and spares no punches. I particularly liked her unconventional ending – don’t expect a straight-forward Lux gets better, Lux gets the boy, Ruffles is to be praised for not giving us that. (8/10)
Source: Review copy
Lydia Ruffles, The Taste of Blue Light (Hodder children’s books, Sept 2017) hardback, 352 pages.