So for those of you who maybe don’t remember – Alice’s debut, Solitaire, was one of my absolute favourite books in 2014. It was a smart, witty, apathetic coming of age story, a Perks of Being a Wallflower for the Tumblr generation or whatever. It was a great book. So when I was lucky enough to be emailed a final manuscript of her highly anticipated second novel, Radio Silence, I pretty much screamed. Out loud. On the shop floor. Which in a bookshop is frowned upon.
Frances Janvier is Head Girl. Frances Janvier is a straight A student. Frances Janvier is on the fast track to an Oxbridge English Literature degree. She studies as often as she can, sleeping little and not really forming any friends – everything sacrificed for the hope of a place at one of the best universities in the country. The only creative outlet Frances allows herself is fan art for a podcast series called Universe City, where the androgynous Radio Silence battles a collection of horrific monstrosities in an inescapable science fiction landscape. As Frances steadily becomes more and more stressed out by her approaching exams and her entry interview for university, she starts to become more engaged in the fictional Universe City world. When she discovers that the mysterious Aled Last, who she’s lived across the road from for most of her life is also a massive fan of the podcast, she finally discovers what it means to have a true friend and starts to understand that life is more than academic achievement. But Aled’s life is a lot tougher than Frances realises, and while he helps her to grow, she starts to see the cracks in him. He needs her help, but he could never say it out loud – but his time is running out.
It’s better. Radio Silence is better than Solitaire. I KNOW. Big words, but I mean them 100%. Frances and Aled’s friendship is absolutely everything I want in a fictional friendship ever, and Alice deliberately allows their friendship to never bubble into a romance, which was SO REFRESHING. Frances is fraught, confused and passionate – all angles and manic energy, where Aled is softer, creative and submissive. I have a lot of feelings for Aled, and a lot of empathy to how he seems to drift along with life doing things that are decided for him but never truly grasping what he really wants. Their co-dependent friendship is flanked by some excellent supporting characters too, Raine being a big favourite, especially as she represents the opposite of Frances’ academic obsession. Daniel too is stony-faced, but his unravelling as a character is really sweet.
One of the biggest themes in Radio Silence is the idea that going to university is not the only route available to young people – and it’s such an important subject that is never tackled enough. There’s so much pressure on teenagers to start attending higher education, when no-one is willing to admit that there are plenty of other roads in life to take. Alice lets her own scepticism towards the education system flow through the story, making it clear that happiness can be achieved through all sorts of less “traditional” routes. One of the other amazing things about the book is that it is SO DIVERSE. Not a single character is 100% straight, but no character is defined by their sexuality either, and she even touches on ideas of asexuality too. And it’s racially diverse too, proving that there really is no excuse to not write with inclusivity. AND it touches on mental illness with honesty and care. Seriously, it manages to wrap up so many themes with a fun plot driven by beautiful dialogue that made Solitaire feel for real and down to Earth. Alice has the perfect YA voice.
Plus, as a massive fan of Welcome to Night Vale, the podcast theme was absolutely amazing! Universe City feels dark, vibrant and perfectly crafted, the excerpts really breaking up the story beautifully with pieces of hugely lyrical writing. I want it to be a real podcast. Alice if you’re reading this let’s make Universe City. Please.
It isn’t out until later this month, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. She knows what she’s doing, and she makes it look effortless. This is Young Adult Fiction done flawlessly.
P.S. – You can pre-order the book RIGHT HERE so you should do that thing.