Being a teenager is never easy, especially when you’re on the verge of leaving school. The future Frances Javier has been working towards is hurtling towards her quicker than she expected, and she hasn’t had a moment to think if it’s still the future she wants. Her best friend, Carys, went missing months ago, the only person she could be herself around, and she might have pushed her away. The only time she feels relaxed is when she listens to Universe City, a YouTube podcast made by a person known as the Creator. Frances secretly posts her fan art online, but when the Creator takes interest in her drawings, she finds a friend in someone unexpected.
Frances is a lively narrator. She’s one of the smart kids at school, and that puts a lot of pressure on her to succeed academically. Radio Silence captures the way in which external expectations can shape a teenager’s identity and what they think about themselves. The focus on academic achievement makes Frances feel like she only has one path to choose, but it also makes her friends think less of themselves. It’s sad, but not uncommon to hear children and teenagers dismissing themselves as ‘stupid’, and the way we focus on exam results and standardised testing plays a big part in that. The characters in Radio Silence show that one size doesn’t fit all, and the right thing for one person, isn’t necessarily the right thing for someone else. At times, it did feel as though Frances was a little too dismissive of her friends. She frequently tells the reader that they don’t understand her, they only see her as the nerdy kid, but she never really tries to reach out to them either. She might have been put in a box by others, but she’s hasn’t tried to open the lid.
The central relationship, between Frances and the Creator was a refreshing and enjoyable read. Most of being a teenager is about the friends you make, and it was nice to have a YA novel reflect that. The characters are all original, from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and all with their own identities, but they are all learning to be comfortable in their own skin. They might be different but their struggles are the same.
The turbulent world of fandom creates a big impact on the lives of Frances and the Creator. The fans of Universe City send encouragement and support through Tumblr and Twitter when Frances begins to create artwork for the podcast, but things sour when the Creator’s privacy is put under threat. It’s easy to see how enthusiasm and admiration can have its pros and cons. People can be flippant when they have a screen to hide behind, and forget there’s someone else on the other side of that screen too. You might forget the scathing message you sent to someone, but it might be harder for them to shake off.
While Radio Silence was an easy read, it dealt with issues that teenagers don’t always talk about.