Synopsis: “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.
Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…”
I read Alice Oseman’s debut novel ‘Solitaire’ over Christmas, but her second book ‘Radio Silence’ really knocks it out of the water. The novel follows brilliantly clever Frances, who has a life ambition to get into Cambridge University and an obsession with an obscure podcast, as she becomes friends with Aled, the creator of said podcast.
First of all, I can’t get over how ridiculously relatable Frances is. This book is for anyone who’s ever felt more comfortable holed up in their room on a computer than out in the real world. For anyone who has ever fangirled about anything on the internet. For anyone who’s ever made better friends on Tumblr than in real life because you have something in common. It’s for anyone who’s ever had to go to school with ‘normal people’ and pretend none of that exists.
I can only really compare Frances to a less annoying Cath from Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl’ because she actually tries to break her boundaries. Anyway, here are a few of the things that I found most important about the novel.
Diversity: A++++ for a mixed race, female protagonist. I’m not going to pretend I can play the mixed race card (except when my friends joke about me being Chinese) because I look and sound like a middle class white girl and have never personally experienced any prejudice because of that. But I still love hearing from a voice which is that little bit different and it reminds me of stories that my parents and grandparents have told me about their own experiences.
Not even kidding, my blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Australian grandmother once had a student look under her desk at work for “Mrs. Wong” because she didn’t believe that it could be her. Someone once even exclaimed to my mum, “Your English is very good!” to which she replied in her first language (English), “Thanks, so is yours.”
Scarily Accurate Humour: Anecdotes aside, another thing that I really enjoyed about ‘Radio Silence’ is how ridiculously quotable it is. That’s partly because Frances is so relatable but also just because Oseman’s humour is fantastic. So many lines made me simultaneously giggle to myself and kind of freak out that she might be reading my mind, like:
“Firstly, everyone was just gonna get drunk, which I could do perfectly well by myself in my lounge while watching YouTube videos instead of worrying about having to catch the last train home or avoiding sexual assault.”
And I had to highlight this one so many times because it basically sums up my entire being, in a way that I could never have explained out loud until I read this:
“You’re an idiot,” said Mum when I relayed to her the entire situation on Wednesday.
“Not an unintelligent idiot, but a sort of naieve idiot who manages to fall into a difficult situation then can’t get out of it because she’s too awkward.”
“You just described my life.”
Academia: It’s not all laughs, there are some deep and serious issues this novel tackles which make it super Important (yes with a capital i) for its teenage readership. One such issue is the UK’s obsession with constantly examining our children and the pressure to go to university. ‘Radio Silence’ is the breath of fresh air that tells teenagers that actually, it’s okay to be a bit concerned about the concept of paying £9,000 a year in tuition fees alone when you have no idea what career path you want to go down.
Teachers, parents and even the government have by now cottoned on to the fact that university isn’t for everyone. If a teenager isn’t academically gifted, authority figures can suggest various different routes into work, such as apprenticeships. What ‘Radio Silence’ highlights is the complete void in providing alternative options for brighter students because it’s simply assumed that because they’ll pick an ‘academic’ subject and boost the school statistics by getting into uni, where they will automatically thrive. Otherwise it would be a ‘waste’ of their intelligence.
This is essentially why I chose History over Art. Because university did turn out to be the right choice for me, I’ve never really thought about the possible ramifications had that not been the case and I’m glad this book makes people seriously think about that.
Friendships: It’s a really big deal in YA to have a platonic friendship, especially between the male and female protagonists. It’s so refreshing to see a pair of characters that don’t instantly fall in love, which is such a trope in the genre. This is as much down to the readers as the authors. We just cannot help shipping anything that moves (guilty) so it was pretty brave of Oseman to make it clear really early on in the book that this is never going to happen, please do not ship the thing. Mad props. Especially when Aled is just so damn adorable.
The great thing about the friendship theme in ‘Radio Silence’ is that it’s so multifaceted. It isn’t just about the fact that relationships can be platonic, the story also explores how to fix your friendships when you accidentally (and inevitably) f*ck them up. It’s a good lesson and Frances is definitely a better person than me to keep trying so hard.
Not to get too deep into spoiler zone, but some of the most heart-wrenching parts of the novel are about Aled’s family relationships. ‘Radio Silence’ shows that friends can be as good a support system as any family. Yes, it can be cliché when the moral of a story is that friendship conquers all, but it really works in this context and I dare you not to get a bit teary.