Book: Radio Silence
Author: Alice Oseman
This book is another one of my YALC prep reads, as Alice Oseman is one of the authors attending YALC, it is also one of the books I received from my lovely #otspsecretsister from the last round I took part it, Amy (@YAundermyskin) so it knocked two items off my goals for the year which was good. It seems like everyone and their friend loves this book, and whilst I did enjoy it, I didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else seems to. I did love the focus on friendship rather than romance and I thought the diversity was great and the school struggles were very relatable, but I felt like the plot kind of dragged a bit. Here is a short synopsis of the novel:
What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?
Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.
But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.
Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…
She has to confess why Carys disappeared…
Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.
It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.
Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has
I’m not really entirely sure how I feel about this book. There were some parts of it that were so so good and other parts that I was like, eh, can’t really care less about. I’m going to talk about both, and hope that I can kind of reconcile the sort of meh feelings that I had about this book.
So the good stuff first. I loved the focus on friendship, I thought that was really great and having a book that had a male/female plationic friendship at its centre was so refreshing as they are still annoyingly rare! Aled and Frances’ friendship, at least for the first half of the book was so lovely and it was great to read a book that put friendship above romance for a change, because at least for me, my friendships have always been the most important thing in my life. Though on the topic of friends, I felt like Frances complaining that her friends only liked her because they didn’t know the real her was a little annoying because she never gave them the chance, and she never actually tried to get to know them either, so I felt when she said that Aled was the first person who ever really got her, like “well you didn’t exactly try to let your friends get to know you” and then she’s surprised when she really likes Raine even though she’s been friends with her for years? Yeah I did not get that at all.
I loved the diversity, nearly every member of the main cast is queer, and Frances and Daniel are also POC, Raine is also a POC though her sexual orientation is not outright stated. It was refreshing to see a book where so much diversity was so easily interwoven into the book and it was great to see Aled, Frances, Daniel and Carys all directly say that they were demisexual, bisexual, gay and lesbian respectively, on page.
I also loved Frances’ relationship with her mum, it was great to see a supportive and present parent in a YA book, plus her mum seemed super awesome!
I found the struggles about sixth form and what to do for Uni very relatable and realistic, sixth form is such a confusing time and it’s so difficult to decide at 18 what you want to do for the rest of your life, honestly four years later, I’m still not entirely sure? So that part was great to read about, though it felt like Frances’ teachers weren’t that involved, which didn’t ring true to me, because in my experience of sixth form, my teachers were super involved in the whole applying to Uni process, we had mock interviews, practice personal statements, our teachers talked to us all the time about what we were applying for and there was even more preparation involved for those applying to Oxbridge, so someone like Frances who was Cambridge bound and supposedly at a really good school, I find it hard to believe that she was so unprepared and flustered at her interview and that only one of her teachers suggested that English Lit wasn’t right for her. From my experience, I feel like a student like Frances wouldn’t have got so far through the application process without someone suggesting that perhaps English Lit wasn’t what she was passionate about and Oxbridge perhaps wasn’t for her.
There was some nice representation of mental health at University as well with Aled, which I liked as I feel like that’s a topic that sometimes falls through the cracks and its such a prevalent issue.
The chapters were a nice length, I liked that they were mostly short, it made the book a lot faster to get through, even when it was dragging. I also liked the fandom references, I thought the podcast was really creative and I liked the social media aspects, though they did feel in parts overdone.
Now onto the things I didn’t like so much. I felt like the book was quite slow paced, even though there was a lot happening which was weird. We kind of had the same things over and over again, school, Spoons, clubs, Frances and Aled hanging out, and repeat for most of the book, which is fine, that’s what most teenagers’ lives are like, I just found myself bored. It was a very weird combination of too many subplots: Frances and Uni, Aled and his mother, his missing sister, Radio Silence, Aled’s mental health issues etc and yet everything moving a too slow a pace. For a lot of the book, all the different parts felt a bit disjointed and it did all come together at the end, but I felt like the different strands were too uneven for most of the book.
I also felt like quite a lot of the characters were a bit shallow, Frances not so much because we’re in her head so we get to understand her motivations a bit more, and Aled was decently well rounded as well, but Raine and Daniel and Carys and both Frances and Aled’s mums felt a bit shallow. This is especially true of Aled’s mum, who is abusive but we don’t really get any indication of why she is that way, so she just comes of as one dimensionally evil. I also found Frances kind of irritating at times because she complains so much about things but then doesn’t do anything to change her situation and doesn’t really seem to be aware of what a privileged position she’s in. I also felt like Aled overreacted a bit to a certain event in the book. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel like all of the characters were entirely well rounded.
I also felt like the story was a little long for my liking, which is weird because it’s only four hundred pages, which is relatively standard for me, but at times it just felt like the story would never end! I think perhaps it was because it was a contemporary, I’m used to reading fantasies of four hundred pages plus, but contemporaries tend to be around the 300-380 odd page mark, so the fact that this was quite long considering probably contributed to my feeling that it was slow paced.
There is also a section of animal cruelty, not described on page, but even the mention of that was enough to turn me off. For content warnings, this book contains a character with depression, not outright stated as such but pretty clearly described, emotional abuse, child abuse and suicide ideation.
I didn’t really buy that Frances wearing funky clothes and liking an Internet podcast would have meant her friends would have thought her weird and she would have been ostracized: this book was published in 2016, a lot of people liked funky fandom clothes and internet podcasts then and even when it was written I don’t think it would have been seen as weird as the author made it out to be.
So overall there were definitely good aspects to this story, I feel like it had just been too hyped up for me and didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Honestly, if I had read this when I was in sixth form, I probably would have been just as hyped about it as everyone else, but now I’m almost done with Uni, I see Frances in a different way than I would have when I was 16, I probably would have loved her at 16, at 21 she irritated me. I’m definitely glad that a book with such good diversity and a male/female platonic friendship at its centre is so popular, it just wasn’t for me.
My Rating: 3/5
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Frances and Raine have a conversation about their grades, and later on about white privilege.
My next review will be of my final YALC prep read, the one I am reading at the moment, Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi.