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This interesting YA offering was published a couple of weeks ago, exploring the pain of growing up and self- discovery under the lens of social media.
What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong? 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 favorite 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. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances' dreams come crashing down and she will need every bit of courage she possesses to help herself, and her friend.
That is part of the rather chatty blurb, but provides an insight into the themes of a book where the main protagonist has bought into the propaganda churned out by schools, these days. That if you are clever, then you must focus on getting great exam results, then go on to the best university you can aim for, in order to get that high-flying job. Frances has focused onto this ambition and, as an only child brought up by her mother, is uncomfortable with her peers, so hides behind the treadmill of study and constant tests to keep her social interaction to a minimum.
But when in her room, she listens to music and podcasts and has decided tastes in clothes and films. The portrayal of a deeply private, socially inept girl is a well depicted and I found myself caring for her -- crucial if this story is to work. But the character who is the real star in this tale is the tortured Aled, whose withdrawn exterior also is a veneer. For Aled is the creator of Frances' favorite podcast, Universe City and as she gradually gets to know him better, she discovers this fact. Though Aled is desperate for it to stay a secret...
I really like this book's examination of growing up in the modern world and the struggle for teenagers to find their own identities, amidst the peer pressure, demands of school, parental expectations and hopes as well as the pull-push that is social media. Oseman demonstrates both the opportunities the internet can provide for isolated people to express themselves -- and the bear trap it can become when online attention turns carnivorous. It helps that Oseman is only twenty-one and therefore, of the generation who has been through this process.
Any niggles? I was increasingly uncomfortable with the pantomime villain depiction of Carol, Aled's controlling mother. I feel a more intelligent, nuanced characterization could have added to the story -- that of a woman desperately trying to relive her own lost opportunities through her children. It is a common parental trait that can be every bit as lethally damaging as anything Carol offers up. Whereas Carol's behavior would immediately have every parent reading this book realizing their own parenting is far better than the unhinged portrayal demonstrated. It is a shame, because I think Oseman missed a trick, here. However, given the amount she manages to get right -- including her characters' negotiation through their own sexuality -- it isn't a deal breaker.
The story gripped me throughout, and as I am not anywhere near the target age group, that is a testament to the writing, strong characters and narrative structure and the ending satisfactorily provides a conclusion. All in all, a worthwhile, enjoyable read.
Click here to buy Radio Silence, by Alice Oseman on Amazon
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