I picked up Radio Silence from the YA section because I’ve been making a point to borrow brightly coloured books, and it has a green spine. Yeah, I know, not much of a reason to choose something, but in this case, it worked out well — I ended up getting totally invested in the book, to the point where I was close to tears at various points.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s backtrack.
Radio Silence is, first off, one of the most relatable books I’ve ever read. The characters are in their last couple of years at school — one’s about to head off to university (Durham, specifically St John’s College, which is where my sister went) and one’s hoping to apply to Cambridge if her AS grades are good enough (which is where I go). If you know me at all, you can see why I’d identify with stressed-out high-achieving students! But they’re also massive nerds who love memes and podcasts and fan art and the internet.
It’s hard to give too many details about the aspects I related to without spoiling plot points, but I grew incredibly invested in these characters because I knew what they were going through. I felt for Frances as she struggled through her Cambridge interview, even though mine was nothing like as awkward and there were no Old White Men involved at all (Newnham College all the way). I felt for Aled as he struggled to settle into university and to enjoy himself.
There are a whole host of secondary characters and I basically felt like I could relate to one character or another in some way. Like, my circumstances might be totally different (Aled has a controlling, abusive mother, whereas mine is great), but we still had something in common. There was nobody in the book where I thought, “Okay, I just don’t get you at all.”
Things I loved about the book:
Aled and Frances have a wonderful friendship with 3am conversations and memes and silly jokes and messages that sounded realistically like something my friends would send to each other, rather than the cringey attempts at ‘teenagers on social media’ that you see in lots of books.
The reason for this? The author’s young. She’s 21, just graduated from university last week. This is her second novel, the first having been published when she was 19, so she’s already managed to achieve the one thing my younger self wanted to do (damn it) — be a published novelist as a teenager. When I realised how young she was, I was seriously jealous, I’m not going to lie.
It also makes it very clear that this isn’t going to be a story about romance, and I liked that a lot. You know, there are some romantic aspects happening in the background, but they’re not the focus, they don’t get in the way, and where you might expect a romance (main female and male character as best friends, for example), there explicitly isn’t one.
Aled is demisexual! I’ve never seen demisexual representation in books before, or any frank and open discussions of asexuality much at all. And lots of the other characters are queer in various ways, too, but it’s mostly only a passing reference in their story and not their entire plotline, which was refreshing. Aled’s also the creator of a podcast where the main character is heavily implied to be agender, which is very cool.
I literally cried because I felt like this book could see into my mind. As somebody who desperately wanted the grades to get into university and then ended up not really enjoying it at all but sticking with it because I didn’t know what else to do and eventually taking time out in February of second year (and the month’s not insignificant in the context of this book), this book seemed to get me in a way I’m not sure any other book has.
However, I didn’t think this was a perfect book.
Things I didn’t love:
The writing style in the first half of the book.
This sounds really specific but it’s actually not a particularly accurate way of phrasing what bothered me. I guess it’s more that the first half of the book didn’t convince me in the way the second half did. It felt less polished, and took a while to get going. While a lot of it was fun to read, it didn’t feel like much was happening, and although I enjoyed the character development, I guess it just felt a little self-indulgent?
I think if I’d known when I started that the author was super young and also a regular Tumblr user, the style here would have made a lot more sense to me — it feels like something that’s born of those kinds of interests and that background. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t think books need to feel ‘professional’ or whatever to be good, and like I said, this was a breath of fresh air in so many ways with how it dealt with the internet and representation and so on. But in some sense it didn’t feel entirely polished or finished.
That said, the second half of the book was awesome. I was thoroughly emotionally engaged, I basically cried on about four occasions, and I finished it thinking that all I really want from the next few years is to find a friendship like the one in this book because I think that’s what I’m lacking and it seems like a fulfilling aspect of life.
So yeah, I enjoyed it, even if I didn’t think it was perfect. Definitely recommended to internet people, anyone who likes Welcome To Night Vale (Aled’s podcast is inspired by that), and people looking for more unusual LGBTQ representation (e.g. not romance).