One of the great joys of reading is escapism. It’s easy for most of us to read a novel and relax back into the comfy surroundings of Hogwarts, for instance. We all find that particular part in a novel that inspires thought when we read, but I believe the best books are the ones where all the parts make you think, no matter how many times you read them. The latter was an outcome I didn’t expect when reading Radio Silence, a 2016 young adult novel by Alice Oseman. I revisited this book during the summer and enjoyed it even more than the first time I had read it.
Radio Silence is the story of high achiever Frances Janvier who is in the process of making the transition into university, and creates fan art for her favourite podcast. When Frances meets Aled Last, she discovers he is the genius (“Radio Silence”) behind the podcast. After it goes viral, things between them are changed forever. The book explores how Frances navigates through the disappearance of a main character and Aled’s lonely experience at university, which is equally as difficult. Oseman decided to write this authentic account of the teenage experience after her first book Solitaire at age nineteen.
I want to talk about Aled, as I loved his character. His journey is told through insightful glimpses and story stood out to me the most, even during my initial first read, because it was the closest to my own emotionally. Frances’ story is incredibly close to the experience of many young people at the end of A-Levels: extremely academic and dead set on achieving that goal of university. It was nice to see the interwoven story of Aled compound with it.
The story ties together every character into the narrative. It felt real, from the characters, their decisions, even down to the way they talk
Aled’s character uniquely shows the uncomfortable transition into new adulthood and the difficulty of expressing yourself, even at university. He displays the deep-seated anxiety that not a lot of Young Adult genre authors portray as a theme of the university experience. Although the book isn’t specifically focused on mental health, it does voice how many of us feel out of balance with our surroundings and even within ourselves. Aled is that feeling.
The trend continues among the diverse range of all the supporting characters, too; they didn’t feel like background filler upon recollection. The story ties together every character into the narrative. It felt real, from the characters, their decisions, even down to the way they talk. Usually, with YA in particular, dialogue is the crucial pass/fail mark in my eyes. It can be quite difficult to connect with that personal perspective when catchy references from three years ago are thrown in. The writing style was teenaged in the best possible way. Characters spoke the way you would expect (with all the um’s and ah’s kept in). Frances as the narrative voice throughout especially encapsulated the beauty of first-person perspective.
I’d recommend it to everybody, especially those in desperate need of a contemporary book that can be a reassuring comfort through your late teenage years
If you are also in the group that firmly stays away from YA as an entire genre, believing that they deal with heavy themes but patronise the reader, this is the book to change your mind. Radio Silence not only manages to comment on nuanced themes (fan culture, the internet and sexuality) but it subverts the typical love story phenomenon. I loved that the platonic love was the central element to Frances and Aled’s relationship. The book didn’t feel as if it was obviously trying to point out these things, since they developed in an organic way between the characters.
At no point did any plot point feel forced or any issue too forcefully imposed on the reader. Instead, the tone consistently reassures as the issues compile together. The podcast snippets didn’t intrude on the action of the story but they felt like small reflections on the bigger picture of the book. The ‘Universe City’ podcast guided us through the turbulent and estranged experience with an equally lost yet hopeful voice.
Overall, if you need a book that is a quick and easy read, you will certainly enjoy Radio Silence. I adored this summer re-read (and newly established all-time favourite) for its diverse cast of characters and themes. I’d recommend it to everybody, especially those in desperate need of a contemporary book that can be a reassuring comfort through your late teenage years.