Arts Reviews

September Book of the Month: One for the Freshers!

TITLE: Radio Silence

AUTHOR: Alice Oseman

GENRE: YA fiction

PUBLISHER: HarperCollins


PAGES: 403

WARNING: Some emotional abuse and bullying.

The perfect September read, Alice Oseman’s second novel, Radio Silence, is a brilliant example of a young adult book that doesn’t follow the dystopian trend. Set in the real world, with A Levels and university looming over the central teenagers’ lives, this novel showcases its characters’ experience with academia, fandom culture, and self-discovery in a way that many readers will see reflected in their own lives.

Academic pressure is something a lot of us, as university students, can probably relate to. The need for those specific grades to get into the uni you want, the fear of interviews, the nervousness while driving to open days – sound familiar? That’s exactly the experience of Frances and her friends in Radio Silence, students desperate to fulfil their academic ambitions – even at the expense of who they really are.

“It felt shockingly real”

If you’re fresh from A Levels and the trauma of Results Day, you might want to give yourself some space before diving headlong back into that world – it’s very vividly recreated. The immediacy of this experience meant, for me at least, the world felt shockingly real, like Frances and Aled really exist, and went to school just down the road from where I did.

But while academia is a central theme in this book, it’s not the only one. Friendship is key, as is self-discovery and self-fulfilment, the realisation that teenagers are real people too, with lives that don’t need to only revolve around grades and CVs. If you found yourself more able to be who you wanted once you got to uni, this is definitely the book for you.

“Adds an interesting, modern dynamic”

It’s also a really easy read – nothing like the books on your course reading list. The characters talk like normal people, for one, and the main text is often broken up by other things – Twitter messages, Tumblr posts, parts of podcast transcripts – which adds an interesting, modern dynamic to the story.

In fact, fandom culture and the internet are central to this novel. The podcast Frances loves, Universe City, is loosely based on Welcome to Night Vale, and she and Aled routinely reference various books, films, TV shows, music, games, and more that they enjoy. If you own a Batman onesie, Monsters Inc. leggings, or a ‘burger jumper’, you’ll probably love this novel.

“Realistically diverse, yet beautifully unforced”

Another important point is the book’s diversity. Oseman incorporates a number of characters who are explicitly stated to have different ethnicities, sexualities, and identities. These revelations are casual, too, feeling normal, and never out of place – it’s realistically diverse, yet beautifully unforced. It’s refreshing, particularly when so much of popular culture erases or ignores the lived experience of so many people.

Real life is messy, as it is for these characters. Nothing quite goes how they want or expect, but that’s ok. You’ll feel the full rollercoaster of emotions, you’ll want to scream and laugh and cry, and you’ll finish it feeling like you want to go back and do it all again. Please do – it’s worth the second read.

Radio Silence bucks norms by following real life as the internet age knows it, by bringing in aspects of reality that not everyone is aware of, and by presenting a variety of excellent characterisations that make you believe these people are real. By now, you probably know if you’re the target audience or not – if you are, you’ll love it.

10/10 – a YA novel perfect for right now, for internet-lovers and students everywhere (or at least the UK).

Isobel Sheene

Images courtesy of Isobel Sheene

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