When I first looked at the title, I could only remember faint remnants of the definition, a time during which it’s only silence. It’s only now, after having read the full book, that I remember a certain English lesson where we had to analyze a book title before we read it and all the information you can get about a book just by looking at the title. The title Radio Silence in a nutshell would be the name of Aled Lasts’ alias for his podcast Universe City. But maybe it’s more than that. Each character in their own way is hiding something. In some ways, they are being silent about something that they have trouble sharing with even those that care the most about them. Frances’s hidden self, Aled’s pain, Daniel’s confusion about his relationship with Aled, and Carys’ disappearance. Their problems and hidden depths can relate to the definition of the term radio silence.
Radio Silence is a contemporary young adult fiction novel written by Alice Oseman and winner of the 2017 Inky awards which can be found here. Alice Oseman is a queer author who has written one book previous to Radio Silence, Solitaire. Personally, I think that anyone, ages 12 and up, can read this book. Radio Silence is based in Kent, England in the 20th century. I am reading from a similar perspective being born and raised in Canada also in the 20th century.
Radio Silence is about Frances Janvier, a teenage girl who has one goal in life, to get into the University of Cambridge. But behind her studious and serious nature, Frances has another side to her, one that loves weird clothes, art, and is obsessed with the infamous (and fictional) podcast Universe City. After getting offered to be the artist for Universe City, a coincidence leads her to meet the creator himself, Aled Last. Through working on the podcast together, Aled and Frances become friends. He may be even Frances’s first real friend. But when Aled’s secret identity is revealed, their friendship is tested, and France’s vision of her future starts to become blurry. Will they rekindle their friendship, or will it crumble to pieces?
The story is set around the present day time. While there are still some characters that don’t support LGBTQIA+, the majority of the characters accept it, taking into account the time period and country. It is an #ownvoices novel that showcases a variety of different sexualities, realistic coming outs, and fleshed out characters. This is a story about Frances Janvier, a half-European, half-Ethiopian bisexual teenage girl and her friendship with Aled Last.
As a teenager myself reading this book, I found that I could strongly identify with the characters and the challenges they faced. I started reading the book with absolutely no expectations and very little information as to what the book was about. When I first started reading I underestimated how much I ended up enjoying this book. It’s a rather slow-paced book and the first person narrative threw me off for a second since I had grown accustomed to reading in third person. But once I got further along in the plot and got used to the first person, I found myself being unable to put the book down.
One of my favourite aspects is that this is one of the few books, if the only one, where the protagonist doesn’t have a love interest and is perfectly happy with that. The friendship between Aled and Frances was spell-binding, a perfect mix of weirdos together with similar interests. Aled is a boy and Frances is a girl, but that doesn’t mean that they need to fall in love. Frances even frankly states this in a chapter that she and Aled will not fall in love just because they are of opposite genders. I love the route Oseman decided to take with Radio Silence and how she portrayed male and female platonic friendship. It is something that needs to be portrayed more in books instead of just assuming that every female and male character will end up together.
Frances, I found, was an enjoyable and relatable protagonist. Sometimes it was as if Oseman had plucked thoughts from my head and implemented it into Frances’ thoughts. Many parts and aspects about her I could relate too, like how she portrays herself differently in front of different people, which I believe many people do to some degree. Some thoughts of Frances were actual things I have thought myself. For example, she wishes that she had her father’s Ethiopian last name instead of her mother’s white last name so she could feel closer to her Ethiopian ethnicity. Similarly, sometimes I wished that I had my mother’s last name, because not only is it way easier to spell and pronounce, but I have always wanted to feel closer to my own Chinese ethnicity, just like Frances.
As someone who goes to a very academically-focused school, I am often asked about my future job and what university I want to go to. My school even had a university present to my class. These experiences made me able to strongly identify with the expectations Frances faces. One of the main themes in Radio Silence made me contemplate my life and come to a new understanding. The expectation of society, or at least the people surrounding me, was that you would eventually go to college or university. But in Radio Silence the characters come to terms with the fact that university is not for everyone and that’s okay. Frances has always wanted to go to Cambridge, or at least she thinks so. Radio Silence showcases her internal struggle to differentiate whether that is what she wants, or if it is just an expectation she has grown accustomed to, which I think is something many of us struggle with sometime in our lives. The characters go through a journey of figuring out what they think they want and what they really want, and I went along on the journey with them.
Just a quick note, I also thought that the dialogue was realistic and sounded like something teenagers really say, especially the text messages sent between Aled and Frances.
The book itself does not focus on coming out or the characters’ sexualities and the main theme is more centralized towards friendship. That being said, the characters all vary in sexualities and don’t solely exist to be the token queer character, each of them having other qualities besides being queer. While during the course of the book one character comes out and another identifies his sexuality, it isn’t the main aspect and we are not given much insight on the internal struggle of the characters or their thoughts on the matter in general. When Frances did come out to Aled it wasn’t made into a big deal and the conversation ended rather quickly, with him asking a few questions and accepting the fact. I thought that it was a realistic portrayal of coming out just in the way that it wasn’t overdone and I can relate to it through my own experiences, though everyone’s experience is different. Leading from that, the characters in this, besides one mother who is a side character, are accepting and the characters themselves don’t face much discrimination. Though the main conflict was generally centred around Frances and Aled’s friendship, there were still main side conflicts of Aled and Daniel’s relationship and Frances’s past unrequited love and current guilt over a character’s earlier disappearance.
I very much enjoyed this book. The characters themselves had so many hidden depths and problems with each of them having an important role in the plot. The internal conflict with fighting against society’s expectations was eye-opening for me as I did not even notice how society has bred this expectation of how one is supposed to live when in reality we should have the choice of what we want to do in our lives. I praise Radio Silence for its varying ethnicities and sexualities showcased. It’s not life-changing or tear-jerking, but it’s a fun, thought-provoking, and extremely relatable book. If that’s what you’re looking for, then I highly recommend it.
Book Title: Radio Silence
Author: Alice Oseman
Original Language: English
Published: February 25, 2016 (Harper Collins Children’s Books)
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Awards for Radio Silence:
- 2017 Inky Awards (State Library: Victoria, Australia)
Reviewer Biography: J. L. is an avid reader, teenager and aspiring writer. She spends most of her time stressing over school and sometimes when she isn’t stressed reads fanfiction, plays volleyball, and watches anime. She is not sure about what she wants to be when she grows up but right now she likes the idea of being an author and doing literally anything that she can that will help others. She’s not very picky about book genres and is open to reading anything. She was lucky enough to have the GREATEST NANNY IN THE WORLD who is also great at making people into burritos.
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