Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Radio Silence, Alice Oseman

Hello. I hope somebody is listening.
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…

* * * * *
5 / 5 

A phenomenal contemporary read. Oseman perfectly captures what it is to be a British teenager on the cusp of attending (or not) university, struggling to separate who you are and who you want to be from what other people want you to be, but also from who you thought you ought to be for so long that it has become who you are. It seamlessly blends in social media, friendships, understanding your own sexuality, and a beautiful podcast: Universe City.

Briefly, the plot is this: Frances wants to go to Cambridge. She wants it more than anything else, every since she was seven years old. The only other thing she loves is Universe City, a podcast in the vein of Welcome to Night Vale and one day she meets Aled, it's creator, a boy she has known her entire life but never paid much attention to. But just as her life is coming together, everything falls apart from her friendships to Universe City to her university application.

Only because I thought I had to. Because I was good at it. I thought that was the only way I was going to have a good life. But, that's wrong

Firstly, I'm going to talk about Frances. I literally was Frances. I have never seen so much of myself on paper it was frankly disturbing yet so beautiful. I'm a second year university student but two years ago I was this girl: applying to Oxbridge, doing things just so I could put them on my UCAS application (except I was prefect not head girl), art was my only hobby, I studied all of the time and got straight A/A*'s. Practically the only differences are that she went for English Literature and I went for Philosophy, I had a few more friends, and I can't stand podcasts. Oh, also I'm not British-Ethiopian. 

Frances is every child who was top of their class for years. Who got straight grades. Who is growing older and realising that they aren't nearly as clever as they thought they were and that there are so many children who are top of their school who want to go to Oxbridge. Or do they? Watching Frances realise that grades really aren't everything was like watching a film of my life. I didn't make the same choice in the end as Frances (I chose a lower ranked university where I knew I would be happy - I could feel this decision was right  in my bones despite people telling me I should go somewhere better, and I am happier here than I have ever been in my life). This book is a love letter to those over achievers are beginning to realise that academia isn't even nearly everything that is important and nor should it be. 

I can't just fork out ninety pounds whenever I want. Believe me. I would if I could. I was at the garden centre the other day and they had a fountain shaped like a dog having a wee. Eighty quid.

Obviously there is more to Frances than that. She is socially awkward in such a realistic and genuine way: wears punk clothes but not around her friends because she's worried about what they might think, goes to clubs because that's what teenagers do, isn't it, and desperately wants to find Normal Frances because she's become so entwined with School Frances. Also I love her mother. Her mother is so real and such a good character - so supportive but also so relatable and her "mum dialogue" is on point. It's really rare to see a parental figure that is a great role model yet also feels that real. In that vein, everyone in this book feels so damn real.

How was he eighteen? How could anyone I know possibly be eighteen years old?

Aled is a year older than Frances. He's also the creator of her favourite podcast. But it's a bit weird when your internet and real lives crash, isn't it? Especially when Frances might have something to do with the disappearance of his sister Carys a few years ago. Aled is sweet but shy and anxious. He almost certainly has anxiety. He doesn't want to go to university, but when you've got a place at Cambridge and a home life you would give anything to escape, you'd go, wouldn't you? His mother is a demon. A literal demon. It's made even worse by the fact that she is the kind of abusive that is so very hard for outsiders to detect - the nice to your face sort that doesn't leave bruises. Then there's Aled's childhood friend David who he can't tell how he feels, can't even explain his sexuality to himself because he's so confused. 

Essentially, this book is so beautiful because it is so real. I was not at all surprised to find that Oseman is only three years older than myself. She's captured the weirdness of being seventeen/eighteen, of friendships so intense they consume you. There's also important and valuable discussion of abuse, depression/anxiety, and sexuality. This book is wonderful and so engaging. 

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