Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

Radio Silence is a wonderful book that exactly captures what it feels like to be me. Or at least what it has felt like, at times.

Obviously not in every single aspect (never have I been so thankful for my school friends, with whom I have had many a serious discussion about which Harry Potter character we are), but as I eagerly devoured it I couldn’t help but find the resemblance almost uncanny.

I saw reflections of myself and my friends on each page: in Frances’ experiences as a high-achieving student seemingly destined for Oxbridge at a girls’ grammar school, in the closeness of her new friendship with someone who just gets her, her niche interest in an internet podcast no one she knows irl has heard of- it was so real and relatable I couldn’t tear myself away.

The integral nature of romantic love in the lives of many people is reflected in a lot of fiction, whereas portrayals of friendship, and its own transformative powers, are often neglected. It was such a joy to read a book where the central relationship was not romantic, but a close platonic friendship that, to be honest, I could relate to much more.

“He smiled and looked away. ‘Sometimes I think we’re the same person…but we just got accidentally split into two before we were born.”

Academic pressure has been a part of my life for what seems like forever, since Year 6 when they separated us into sets in maths based on our ability levels, endless tuition sessions in preparation for the eleven plus exams, and trying to keep up at a school where everyone was brilliant (apart from you, or so it sometimes seemed). The idea of any post-school destination other than a Russell Group university seemed unthinkable, and certainly wasn’t encouraged.

We thought ourselves self-aware enough to roll our eyes at the school’s attitude, but this kind of pressure can potentially create and exacerbate serious mental health issues. It can create feelings of anxiety, that you’ll never be as good as everyone around you, that there’s no point trying unless you can be the best- rather than understanding that everyone’s best is different and an individual matter, and that academic success is not the primary measure of your worth.

Most scarily, it’s not just academically high achieving schools which create this damaging mindset (although it is a particularly weird and ultra-intensified form of it); everywhere you turn you can’t escape the implicit, and sometimes explicit, message that unless you go to university and get a degree you won’t get anywhere in life.

This novel affirms that this simply isn’t the case, that there are so many different paths in life and you should pursue what you want to do, rather than trying to please other people. It might be the case that some people really want to go to university and study for a degree, others might want to go to art college, or get a job, or any one of a hundred other options.

“This is real, this is me,’ I said.
She blinked. ‘Did you just quote Camp Rock at me? That’s not very pop punk.”
‘I’ve gotta go my own way.’
‘Okay, firstly, that’s High School Musical…”

As well as containing insightful commentary on academic and social pressure, Radio Silence is also very very fun to read. You grow to empathise with and love all the characters- apart from several notable exceptions whom you hate with a fiery burning passion.

I also appreciated the character interactions which felt so natural and unforced, it’s the closest I’ve read that could have been taken from a conversation between my friends, and loved the inside jokes and references to fan culture, like the real-life podcast Welcome to Nightvale.

I can’t promise that everyone who reads Radio Silence will find it as exhilaratingly relatable as I did, but hopefully you will find it just as refreshingly honest and charming.

 

Image Credits: FMP (thanks :'))
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