5 out of 5 stars.
Released February 2016, Radio Silence is the second young adult novel written by British author Alice Oseman. Though it is not a direct sequel to her debut novel, Solitaire, it is set in the same village following teenager Frances Janvier. Head girl and all-round study machine Frances’ main goal since she was a little girl was to make it into Cambridge university, however there is a side to Frances that she never lets anyone at her school see. For years, she has been a devoted fan of a Welcome To Night Vale-like podcast on YouTube known as Universe City – and out of the blue, she is asked to be a part of the production making art for each episodes. Around the same time she meets Aled Last, the twin brother of her old friend, Carys, and rediscovers the side of herself she’d been keeping secret for so long. Unfortunately, it also means that she has to deal with some pretty heavy consequences and finally open up about why Carys disappeared.
There is something so honest about Alice Oseman’s writing that I always fall in love with her characters. The thing about a good story is it doesn’t have to be poetic or have an immense amount of metaphors – it just needs a main character with a voice that can captivate you, and that is what I found in Radio Silence.
Frances was fantastic to read from the point of view of. I’ll admit that he fact she was a mixed-race character and also bisexual were what initially sparked my interest in this story, but that is only a fraction of why I loved her. She was relatable and quirky in a way that didn’t feel played out. As I mentioned before, a narrator needs an interesting voice to be able to capture the attention of an audience, and to me her voice never got boring – I never felt as though a scene was taking too long or moving too quickly. The same can apply for Aled and every other character, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Alice has this way of rounding out even the smallest characters and turning them into something great. Also, the cameos for her Solitaire characters were such a nice touch.
A lot of the subject matter covered in this novel was so appropriate for the day and age we live in that I feel isn’t talked about in literature as much as it should be. At least not in the way this novel did.
Firstly, the majority of the characters involved were POC. More often than not, POC characters are typically the minority in YA fiction and it was such an amazing thing to see not only the main character but also a lot of the supporting characters get treated with so much love. Secondly, there are LGBT characters and is written completely normally! Frances is bisexual and that word is used multiple times throughout the book. Daniel is gay. Aled is asexual. When the sexualities of these characters are discussed it is done so in a mature way. There are no jokes about it, there are no awkward pauses or moments of denial. These characters are treated as human beings should be – like it doesn’t matter what your sexuality is as long as you are happy with your life choices!
I made a point about the word ‘bisexual’ being used throughout the book because I’ve found in most books that the word almost seems taboo. I mean, sure people say ‘bi’ but not often have seen the full term used. A lot of YA characters are treated as either straight or gay and it was brilliant to see this novel highlight so eloquently that there is a wider spectrum than that.
The relationship between Frances and Aled made me so happy. It was so refreshing to see a story where platonic love is shown with such importance. Too many books make the main characters fall in love, making it seem like that’s all that matters. Romance. But the love in this book felt more real than any of the other stories I’ve read recently because the friendship Frances and Aled developed was genuine. It made me want a frienship like that, that’s for sure.
A lot of moments struck very close to home for me – not just things Frances was going through but all of them – and I found comfort in reading how they coped or didn’t cope.
It’s inspiring to me, personally.
I chose not to go to university because – despite my high grades and academic tendencies – it never felt right for me. I didn’t understand the desire to go to university but know all too well the expectancies that are put upon teenagers to go. The worries everyone involved go through when a person finally admits they do not want that life. I adored how it was explored. I’m beyond that period in my life – I’m the same age as Alice Oseman – so as much as I could still choose to go to uni if I ever wanted to, it still doesn’t feel like the right thing for me and it especially didn’t when it was in Frances’ position. I remember the pressures my lecturers put on me to write a letter to different universities and I flat out refused to waste my time when I knew full well I wouldn’t go – but I never got given any information that could help me beyond that point. All focus was given to the students who did want to go to university – I had to find out about apprenticeships on my own. This novel – though very heavy on university talk – definitely highlights that you can be successful without it. It helps, there is no disputing that, but is not the be-all-and-end-all, and colleges and sixth forms need to realise that too.
My one criticism doesn’t really count as such: I got a tiny bit annoyed by the over-use of the word ‘literally’. But that’s only because it’s a very bad habit that I have too.
Also, I kind of really want Universe City to be a thing. As a podcast or written as a novel or novella. It would certainly be a fascinating read.
I recommend this book to everyone – to parents who want to understand their teenagers a bit better, to teachers who want to aid their students better, and to teenagers who are coming towards the end of school/college/sixth form and don’t know what to do next.