This is a bit of a lesser known title, which it a bit out of the ordinary for me of late. I’ve really been more on the “popular new books” train, but everything needs a little shake-up once in awhile. Also, I saw someone on bookstagram mention that this was life-changing for them, though unfortunately this was months ago and I cannot remember who it was to give them credit. In any case, I saw it in my library’s little used book sale section and figured it was a sign. Plus, it’s by an LQBTQ+ author AND is full of awesome sexuality (and other) representation – the perfect read for Pride month (I read this in June, even though this review isn’t getting published til July…procrastination – whoops).
“Hello. I hope somebody is listening.”
It’s hard to give a description of what Radio Silence is about because really, it’s just a phenomenally authentic snapshot of real life, as it goes. But here’s my best attempt. Frances is an “about to take the biggest exams of her life” aged student (this novel takes place in England, and I am not super familiar with their education/testing system…but something about GCSE’s if you know more than I do), which puts her at about the perfect YA protagonist age. She is a closet geek, but mostly presents a super studious façade as Head Girl in her school. Obsessed with a podcast called Universe City, she ends up being asked by the mysterious Creator, known as Radio Silence, to do artwork for their episodes. And it turns out…she knows the Creator in real life (this is not a spoiler…hello quiet Aled Last)! They forge a secretive and exclusive friendship, something neither of them has really had before, and things are awesome for awhile as they work together and start to come out of their respective shells. That is, until Aled’s secret identity is found out and soon after he has to leave for University…then everything falls apart. Frances loses a friend and Aled loses more than that. But perhaps they will be strong enough to save themselves, their friendships and their futures, if they can just find the confidence to do it.
I’m going to do this review a little differently than most of my past ones. There are lots of things that I want to mention, none of which really flow together well. So, in the style of the narration (short little chapters that kind of jump around), I’m going with a list of short points, as opposed to nice pretty paragraphs. I hope it works.
- The representation is BOMB. Frances is biracial and bisexual. I rarely see bisexual characters and I love it. Aled is asexual, or more specifically, demisexual, which is a sexuality that I have actually never seen before. I love that even more. Two other characters, side-ish but still important characters, are gay. Radio Silence is gender fluid; pronouns: they/them. And there are a number of other minority representations, including at least Asian and Indian (that I can remember).
- The voice of the narration (all from Frances’ POV) is SPOT DAMN ON. It’s like, exactly the insecure yet individual voice that is perfect for these adolescent years. I’m having a hard time thinking of another YA novel that has nailed a voice so perfectly. Not just that, but the general dialogue was great as well – quippy and fast, but also not too tightly crafted.
- In addition to the writing itself, the structure (short chapters that allowed quick jumps in time and events) was perfect for this story. It followed the jumps the characters themselves were experiencing, which made the entire reading experience a more tangible one.
- The basic plotline is reminiscent of Eliza and Her Monsters, which I read last year, but this is a much deeper and more intense story. I mean, Eliza was fluffy YA compared to this. Not to take anything away from Eliza, which I also enjoyed, but this was just a more profound story.
- The general feel of being in high school (or whatever this British equivalent is called) is really phenomenally portrayed. I already mentioned the insecurity, but the common unsure-ness of each of the characters is so relatable. From “Am I good enough to get into University?” to “What can/will I do if I don’t want to/am unable to go to University?” to “I need to hide the ‘real’ me because it is too weird to be accepted.” to “They’re just hanging out with me to be nice, but in reality they are way color than me.” – it’s all just so…true. Everyone thinks that everyone else is cooler or better and they all try to fit some mold of “belonging” that in reality no one really wants/understands.
- I LOVE Frances’ mom. She really resonated with me personally, and my outlook, grown from a number of experiences I’ve been involved in over the past few years. And honestly, I’m not planning to have any kids, but if I did, I can only hope I would be just like her.
- Honestly, this is the best portrayal of the stressful reality of current-day student-hood that I have ever read. If you want to know what it’s like to be a teenager/high schooler nowadays, then READ THIS BOOK.
- Other than sexuality and gender (which are addressed in an open-minded, inclusive and realistic way – especially in regards to self-discovery and personal coming to terms) and overall school experiences, there are some important themes addressed. These themes include, but are not limited to, depression, anxiety, parental abuse (and I love the way this was looked at – its atypical for how it’s normally written, but no less powerful or necessary for that), self-discovery and actualization, and more. As I said, SO profound.
This book resonated with me hardcore. Honestly, I have almost never read anything I have identified with so strongly. It has made me really think about a lot of things, some of which are more obvious (I was definitely a grades-obsessed student with a sort of/not so secret weird side) and some that I am not totally even sure enough about to share yet. It’s been years since I was in high school, but I really wish I had had this book then. Better late than never though, I suppose. I definitely plan to continue to think through all the feels that this book brought up for me…for a long time to come.
If you can’t tell, this is one of my favorite books of the year so far. It is SO real. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
What did you think of this bullet point instead of paragraph style review? Is it better/worse than my normal? Should I try it more often? Let me know!
There were a million poignant moments that I wanted to share from this book. Here’s a selection (It’s overwhelming, I know. I can’t help it. As I mentioned, this book really got me.):
“…to be honest I wished I could do that same, just go home when I wanted to, but I couldn’t, because I’m too scared to do what I want.”
“It took quite a lot of effort not to say sorry for saying sorry.”
“I always thought he looked cooler than me, but he always thought I looked cooler than him.”
“Everyone loves a sad but hopefully ending.”
“I think by now, February, we’ve, as they say, ‘lost touch.’ Not that we ever touched in the first place. In the end, I’m still only ever looking where you’ve looked, I’m only ever walking where you walked, I’m in your dark-blue shadow and you never seem to turn around to find me there.
I wonder sometimes whether you’ve exploded already, like a star, and what I’m seeing is you three million years into the past, and you’re not here anymore. How can we be together here, now, when you are so far away? When you are so far ago? I’m shouting so loudly, but you never turn around to see me. Perhaps it is I who have already exploded.
Either way, we are going to bring beautiful things into the universe.”
“I didn’t know exactly what was stressing me out. It wasn’t one single thing. It was more like a billion tiny things all pulling together to form one giant tidal wave of stress. It felt like I was drowning, sort of.”
“You’re a sunshine angel.”
“I’m sure you think I was complaining about nothing. You probably think I’m a whiny teenager. And yeah, it was all in my head, probably. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. So fuck you all.”
“And after the fire, that was it, you were gone
I see you in every fire that lights
In the end I wish it had been me who’d fallen into the Fire, though maybe that’s a selfish thing to say
The Fire that touched you must have come from a star
You were always brave enough to get burned in the Fire”
“Sometimes you can’t say the things you’re thinking. Sometimes it’s too hard.”