‘My life had built up to this; my future would be built by this […] What if I messed this up? Would that be the end? What if I messed up now, after all the late nights, after reading all those books and poems for an entire year? What if I’d wasted all that time? What if this had all been for nothing?’
Where was this book when I was a teenager? As much as I enjoyed it and related to it at the age I am now, I would have especially appreciated it then. I related to Frances a great deal, from her intense focus on academia to her school self vs her quirky self – even her experiences in her Cambridge interview brought back some painful memories! But this is about Frances, not me – and with her as a protagonist and the other fantastic characters in this book, Alice Oseman has written a painfully accurate and heartfelt story that I would urge anyone to read, whether they’re a teenager going through the process of applying to uni or not. It is a story full of diverse characters, with a bisexual, biracial protagonist, a boy who is asexual, a Korean boy, multiple characters with single parents, multiple queer relationships, a celebration of friendship since the protagonist and the male friend character don’t end up together… This may read as though it’s just ticking boxes, but unlike other books I’ve read that had a diverse cast in terms of sexuality and race, all of these characters felt fully developed, integral to the story and, most importantly, they felt real.
‘And I was so… I thought I was so smart. I thought I was the smartest person in the whole world […] But now… I’m just… when you get to this age, you realise that you’re not anyone special after all.’
Radio Silence follows Frances as she enters her final year of school, preparing for her exams and an upcoming interview at Cambridge. Feeling split between the workaholic she is at school and the more quirky version of herself she is at home – especially her obsession with the Universe City podcast and drawing fanart – she learns to embrace her true self when she meets Aled, the creator of the podcast, who is not only quiet and anxious in real life but the brother of the girl Frances kissed the previous year, the girl who ran away…
The story deals with so many relevant issues, from the pressures of studying and needing to live up to others’ expectations as well as your expectations of yourself, dysfunctional families, the education system and how you’re made to feel as though you need to achieve certain marks to be worth something, being yourself and figuring out who you are – and, perhaps most importantly, mental health issues in men. This is an issue which I don’t feel is talked about enough, with boys, teens, and even older men being encouraged not to display their emotions openly for fear of ridicule, to ‘man up’ and deal with their problems by hiding them away. Another issue that was dealt with less, but which I still feel is important to acknowledge, was the problems of assimilating into a new culture, as demonstrated through the character of Daniel. When he was teased about his name as a child, his mother suggested “How about we give you a real English name, huh? We live in England now and you’re an English boy.”, to which Daniel responded in the present “I know my Mum had good intentions but ‘Daniel’ feels like a lie.” There is more to being yourself than learning what you like to do as a hobby, or what you want to study, or whether or not you want to go to university, and I love the fact that this book also addressed that.
Although Radio Silence covers a wide variety of topics, and at times gets quite dark in its subject matter, it does not feel overwhelming. The pacing is excellent, starting quite light but growing darker as secrets are revealed and mysteries are explained, and all of the chapters are very short. I raced through this book in just a few hours and I’m already looking forward to re-reading it sometime in the future. In the meantime, if you haven’t read it I would urge you to do so. I’m so glad to read about a character like this in Young Adult fiction and I hope it as helpful and meaningful to teens today as it would have been to me when I was their age.