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Reading the Rainbow: Radio Silence

May 31, 2017

Things not to do when you’re feeling fuzzy: read the description of one book, pick up the one next to it and spend the whole time wondering why the narrator is a young woman and there are no bombs.

So, yeah, I went into Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence thinking it was something called The Fixes, so I was very confused for a while, especially because it begins with a fire, so…bombs? No, there was just a fire. So I guess kids got moved around to different schools? And it matters for some reason?

Honestly, so much of this book kept me like

I read it almost in one sitting, and yet when I put it down, I still felt confused. Maybe it’s because of my complete and utter lack of knowledge about English school systems. Or maybe because the book didn’t have much of a plot that I could figure. Yet I enjoyed it. Yeah, I don’t know either.

Frances Janvier is a biracial teen who shows one face at school and another when she’s at home. School Frances is utterly boring to everyone: she has friends but they never get very close, she’s always studying to get into Cambridge, she’s Head Girl, which I guess really is a thing. But Frances at home is a super-nerd. She loves silly clothes and watching movies with her mum, and she especially loves a podcast called Radio Silence, which for some reason is on YouTube instead of being on something more podcast-friendly. It sounds a lot like a crappy version of Welcome to Night Vale, which is either wonderfully incoherently surreal or wonderfully perfectly surreal, depending on which episode you’re listening to. The partial transcripts of the Radio Silence shows rarely make any sense, and you almost never get a sense of plot from them, although the book insists there is one. Frances spends all her non-schoolwork time listening to, reading and responding to fan responses of, and drawing fan art of Radio Silence.

Though a strange quirk of fate, the Creator (as they call him, always capitalized) of Radio Silence wants her to work with him, and he also happens to be her across-the-street neighbor and the sister of her only friend, until said sister left and never contacted anyone again about two years previous.

Frances and Aled begin a great, nerdy friendship, but things begin to unravel as the podcast’s popularity increases.

Not unlike Tash Hearts Tolstoy, which I’ll talk about later, if that book were really dark and disjointed yet hard to put down.

All in all, not much actually happens in the book, certainly not enough plot to warrant its massive size, and yet the characters are engrossing. There are bits and pieces of a mystery–what happened to Aled’s sister?–but they’re not really a mystery so much as a secret, which is something completely different. Each thing that I could complain about on its own is not worth not reading this book.

So…

Am I voting for it in our Rainbow Book Committee straw poll? Yes

Am I nominating it? I haven’t decided. One aspect of the content is unique enough that I might, if I don’t see similar content in another book. But I think I could be easily swayed from putting it on the final list, thanks to that feeling that it doesn’t quite come together. And British books are a tougher sell to American kids, I think. If I’m baffled by the school stuff (what’s an A versus an A*? Like an A+?), will they be put off by it?

Have you read it? Will you read it? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear more perspectives on it.

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