by Alice Oseman
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Length: 496 pages
Obtained Via: I received a free advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for consideration of an honest review.
View at the Traffic light:
Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.
Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.
You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.
They don’t. They make a podcast.
In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?
I picked up Radio Silence on a whim, and it was one of those hidden gems that blew me away. Radio Silence is complicated to explain, because it’s about so much–it clocks in at almost 500 pages, which is quite long for a contemporary–but I will do my best. Radio Silence follows main character Frances, who is a studious, somewhat quiet nerdy girl who is obsessed with a fictional podcast called Universe City. Universe City is a Welcome to Night Vale-esque podcast that follows an agender main character trapped in a strange and unusual place. Frances is in the Universe City fandom; she has a Tumblr and draws fan art, which eventually is seen by the creator of the podcast, and she’s asked to draw official art.
As it turns out, Universe City is created by one of her schoolmate’s best friends, Aled Last, who creates the podcast to escape from his horrible home life with his emotionally abusive and controlling mother. This isn’t a spoiler, as Frances learns Aled is the creator of the podcast early on. She’s tepid, because Aled’s older sister ran away from their village years ago. . . right after Frances kissed her. Somehow, though, Aled and Frances become friends. And they become best friends, very fast. For both of them, it’s the first time they’ve found someone else they feel they can be completely geeky about.
Radio Silence is a story about friendship with a diverse cast. It’s also, as far as I know, the first traditionally published YA with a demisexual character that uses the word to describe themselves, and the story is better for it. Frances and Aled’s friendship becomes complicated, especially as Aled goes off to university and struggles with his mental health, but it is overall a positive force in both their lives. It’s a really beautiful look at friendship that manages to be uplifting without skipping over the hard parts.
Radio Silence manages to fit a lot in those 500 pages, so I probably won’t be able to touch on everything, but I’ll do my best. Perhaps one of the best parts of Radio Silence was how contemporary the internet culture portrayed in the book felt. The Universe City fandom starts as a very positive place for Frances, but as she becomes more popular she has to deal with the fall out. Radio Silence also portrays the entitlement that can come along with fandom, and how intrusive it becomes for both Frances and Aled. Radio Silence is probably the book portrays internet culture the most realistically, in that it serves as a place that can offer support and escape but also can be negative in a way that doesn’t make fun of fandom.
Frances also has a wonderful relationship with her mother, and other than the friendship between Frances and Aled is was probably my favorite part of the book. Frances’ mother was involved in her life, supported her daughter, and was generally an excellent contrast to Aled’s horrible, overbearing mother. Radio Silence also shows how overwhelming and terrifying it can be to think you have to do something to have the best life afforded to you, especially when you’ve been told all your life how natural you are at it. Frances has been an excellent student all her life and seems to be set on a course for university, but begins to realize it’s maybe not what she wanted after all. All in all, Radio Silence does a lot of things that you don’t normally see in YA, and it makes it a refreshing, engaging, contemporary read.
I was surprised by how much I loved Radio Silence, but I adored this book. I read it in only a few sittings, and even though it’s already long I wanted it to go on even longer. The friendship between Frances and Aled was the height of the book, but there were also so many excellent subplots and themes seamlessly integrated into the story. Parts of it were very heavy, but also hopeful and well worth reading. 5/5 cupcakes.