written by Wenlock Books' apprentice, Jasmine
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Genre: Young Adult
Radio Silence is Alice Oseman’s second novel (Solitaire was her debut) and is the first book that I have ever read in 1 day – I literally couldn’t stop reading this!
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.
This book tells the story of Frances, a sixth form student whose only goal is to get into Cambridge, no matter how boring that makes her seem. She’s head girl because it looks good on her personal statement, she chose her A Level subjects based on what would make her the most appealing Cambridge candidate, and she has no real friends because they’d just get in the way of studying. But beneath this facade Frances’ real self is hidden, exposed only online under her alias Touloser.
Compared to Alice’s debut, Radio Silence is much bolder and tackles the topic of diversity in a much more blatant manner. Whilst Solitaire contains gay and bisexual characters it does lack racial diversity with Alice herself commenting that ‘the thing that I absolutely despise the most about it is that all of the primary characters are implied to be white … this is never, ever going to happen again’. Alice certainly stuck by what she said and has done a remarkable job of including characters of colour, of different wealth backgrounds, and a variety of LGBT+ qualities into Radio Silence. However despite containing such varied characters, it never once felt like she was ticking off a diversity checklist; every character felt rounded, and it felt like a realistic depiction of a modern multicultural society.
As well as being bolder with character diversity, the themes in Radio Silence felt darker and more frightening than those seen in Solitaire. Abusive family relationships, manipulation, bullying and isolation are all explored and there’s also a heavy focus on the self-worth attached to exams and university which I thought Alice wrote about really well. Due to illness I only managed to continue with 1 A Level subject after AS and wasn’t well or qualified enough after my extra year of sixth form to consider university. Although the situations in this book are different to what mine were, the fear and hopelessness that I felt are described so perfectly that reading this made me feel a bit unsettled. It’s not often that my feelings are described so accurately, although Alice has managed to do just that in both of her books!
An aspect of Radio Silence that I loved is the relationship between Frances and her mum. Often YA fiction depicts a negative relationship between mother and daughter which I can’t relate to so for me, it was nice to read about the positive and happy mother-daughter bond that Frances experiences. I also like that Frances’ mum is a working and loving single parent because the media has a habit of portraying single mothers as lazy and elusive which is, for the most part, completely untrue. It’s so refreshing to read about characters who are perfectly normal without fitting within the white, middle-class mould. There’s nothing about Frances’ mixed race, single parent, only child family that makes her anything other than normal, and I’m so pleased that Alice hadn’t made these surface-level characteristics into issues that aren’t there.
I really enjoyed Radio Silence and think that yet again Alice Oseman has written a really good story whilst managing to confront relevant issues through believable and relatable characters. What I like most about Alice’s stories is that she understands the people that she writes about because she is one of them. To read about a character who watches YouTubers and uses Tumblr and dresses in patterned leggings is wonderful because that’s literally me, and I hardly ever read something and think ‘yeh, this author gets it’. Perhaps Radio Silence won’t be timeless, and maybe in 10 years someone will read it and think ‘what the hell in Tumblr??’ but that doesn’t really matter because for now it so perfectly captures the experiences that teenagers and twenty-somethings are living. I loved this book and really hope there’s more to come.