radio silence // book review

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Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

★★★★ 4.5 STARS

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.

[mild spoilers below!]

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With the brilliant success of Solitaire – Oseman’s debut – fresh in everyone’s mind, Radio Silence is sure to hit the market with a bang. It tackles the topics of university, academia, and school stresses in the fresh way only Alice Oseman can; unflinchingly honest, this author gets it right. If you’re wanting a book about teenagers from someone who actually knows youth culture, living it herself, then this is a must.

“I was study machine Frances Janvier. I was going to Cambridge, and I was going to get a good job and earn lots of money, and I was going to be happy.” (p.229)

Frances is an eighteen year old student heading straight for Cambridge. Being Head Girl and a relentless studier, her whole live has been leading up to this moment. And then an amazing opportunity to collaborate with the Creator of her favourite podcast, Universe City, arises, she befriends Aled Last, and everything she thought she knew about what she wanted collapses.

The reason I have been so avidly awaiting the publication of this book is that I knew it was going to tackle some complex issues regarding how socially-regarded intelligent people are treated. In Oseman’s other novel we get hints of these themes through Michael Holdon but I was excited for more depth and further exploration of the topics. I was not disappointed. Throughout we see Frances consider her options, especially in light of Aled at university. Both she and Head Boy Daniel Jun are aiming for the elite Cambridge University but Aled’s experiences, his sister’s mysterious new life, and Raine’s complete disregard for the education system make her reevaluate the reasons why she wants to study an academic subject she completely hates at a university where she will have nothing to gain. It’s an interesting journey through France’s mind and one I think is important to discuss: university isn’t for everybody. And that’s okay.

“‘And I’m platonically in love with you.’

‘That was literally the boy-girl version of ‘no homo’, but I appreciate the sentiment.'” (p.108)

Perhaps one of the defining elements of Radio Silence that sets it apart from other YA is the main, focal relationship in the book is a platonic one between a boy and a girl. I know, I know – please restrain yourselves from screeching with sheer delight. All our prayers to the Gods of YA have been answered! Because here it is: a complex and beautiful friendship between Frances and Aled that never once veers into romantic territory. They are friends, best friends, and that is more than enough. Growing up with a lot of male friends it really puts a smile on my face to see this represented in fiction. I have no idea why it seems so limited since most people I know have friends of varying genders but I’m glad Oseman took a step towards showing this kind of thing. I mean, they even share a bed, and there is not once even a tiny bit of awkward sexual tension. This is my jam.

And speaking of the depiction of relationships, another great example here is the m/m one (which I won’t go into detail about because SPOILERS). It’s reminiscent of Oseman’s Nick and Charlie from Solitaire and yet it’s not nearly so perfect as their relationship is. In Radio Silence the boys have issues and it’s definitely not all plain sailing. For those out there who like to fetishise gay relationships it’s a very apt reminder that they are human too. From discourse Oseman has discussed on her blog (chronicintrovert – check it out it’s very entertaining!) I can tell that it’s something she’s had an issue with for a long time.

“My mum always loved parents evening, mostly because she  loves the brief, confused stares people make when she introduces herself as my mother. These occur because I’m mixed-race and she’s white, and for some reason most people think I’m Spanish because  I did Spanish GCSE last year with a private tutor.” (p.9)

I mean, I can’t review this book without talking about how exceptionally, amazingly diverse it is. Three out of the five lead characters are POC, an undetermined number of them are also queer, and it is has some of the best accuracy, the most careful attention to detail etc., that is out there on the current YA market. Oseman may be white but she doesn’t ignore the micro-aggressions that people of colour, including those of mixed-race face, and has definitely done her research. The same with featuring an array of LGBTQ+ characters – from homosexuals to demisexuals it all falls organically into place. These people aren’t just token gays or token Asians, they are fleshed out, fully fledged, unfortunately fictional human beings.

The whole cast of this book is amazing in a way I just can’t comprehend. They read like living, breathing people, their dialogue effortlessly encapsulates the internet generation, and my heart is absolutely crushed again and again in this book. And guess what: I haven’t even talked about some of the other great things in the book. Like Carys Last, Aled’s lime green shoes, and Frances’ entirely crazy but simply amazing wardrobe. I think this book is exceptional. Alice Oseman truly has a place as one of my favourite authors of all time. The only reason I rated this 4.5 stars instead of the full 5 is that it felt ever so slightly slow paced in a few places. And you know what? I don’t care. Because Radio Silence is amazing and the characters pull it through and you should all go out and read it right this very second. Right now. Go.

Happy Publication Day Alice!!

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5 thoughts on “radio silence // book review

  1. Appletaile

    I just read this and I absolutely loved it! ❤ I really liked that it explored education and the pressures of uni and exams and stuff. And FOR ONCE a girl-boy platonic friendship that doesn't develop into romance. (Plus, yay for the only mention of asexuality I've ever seen in a book.) I also really loved the concept of Universe City! Yeah. Overall I liked it a lot haha, and I'm glad you did too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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