I Was Born for This

For Angel, life is about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything she loves – her friend Juliet, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy owes everything to The Ark. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band with his mates is all he ever dreamed of doing.

But dreams don’t always turn out the way you think, and when Jimmy and Angel are unexpectedly thrust together they find out how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

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Because I am hopelessly out of the loop, I was perhaps the last person to find out that Alice Oseman had a new book coming out, but when the news finally reached me, I was thrilled. After avoiding her work for a long time because her age-to-success ratio made me feel like a failure (if you don’t know, the woman got a book deal when she was seventeen. SEVENTEEN. When I was seventeen I got turned down for a job at the zoo because I didn’t have any retail experience), I finally picked up Radio Silence (which she wrote at university. When I was at university I got turned down for every internship I ever applied for) and I fell in LOVE. In a similar style to my eventual acceptance of Tavi Gevinson into my life, Alice Oseman’s talent overrode my own sense of personal failure. (Also, I got a job, which I’m not going to lie, helped a great deal.)

And funnily enough, as it turns out, I think it is Oseman’s age that plays in a big part in what makes her books such a joy to read. No shade to older YA authors, but there’s really no one who can write about the experience of being a teen growing up on the internet better than…. you know, an adult woman who spent her teen years on the internet. In I Was Born For This, much like Radio Silence (and, I assume, Solitaire though I haven’t read it yet) Oseman crafts an authentic story of coming of age online, this time through the intensity, joy and misery that comes with being part of a fandom.

She writes about The Ark fandom, in which Angel, one of the two narrators of the story is heavily involved, with authenticity and compassion, easily incorporating the positive and negative sides of online infatuation. Oseman made clear that the obsession with these three boys wasn’t so much rooted in sex for Angel, but the need to escape from her day to day. Her involvement in the fandom wasn’t  a sign of having ‘no life’, but of having one that she didn’t want to deal with. Thinking about The Ark was a means of avoiding herself, something I think a lot of us bookworms can probably relate to (I certainly could – I think it’s how a lot of unhappy kids who aren’t so much into drugs or drink tend to deal with their feelings).

Oseman’s use of dual point of view, something I usually don’t like at all, worked perfectly in I Was Born for This. Chapters alternating between Angel, the fangirl and Jimmy, member of The Ark and object of Angel’s obsession came together to show two people in radically different situations dealing with the same issue: desperately avoiding confronting their problems, often in ways that meant being wilfully – and hurtfully – ignorant of the people closest to them. It’s really mature subject matter for a YA book – the consequences of avoiding problems/feelings isn’t something I really confronted until I was well into my twenties.

As in Radio Silence, I Was Born for This is a space of complete acceptance of all people – no matter race, sexual orientation or gender identity. I have slightly complicated feelings about this. On the one hand, I love it, because it’s fun to live in such a safe space for a couple hundred pages, but on the other, having a book in which one lead protagonist was a Muslim girl and the other a transgender boy that is pretty much apolitical felt, frankly… unrealistic.

That said, though there was a serious lack of politics, something that did feature was characters’ religions. Which I loved. Angel, as I mentioned, is a Muslim and Jimmy is a Christian and for both of them their religion plays an active and positive role in their lives. Religion is seen by a lot of people as a profoundly negative influence on the world*, but the truth is, though the voices of crazies are loudest, most religious people are just getting on with their lives, following their religion and trying to be the best people that they can. I Was Born for This reflected that in a way you don’t often see and it made me very happy.

I Was Born for This is a delightful read. Oseman builds characters you can’t help but root for, despite their flaws, perfectly nails the fandom experience and leaves you feeling all warm and squishy on the inside. Her writing is YA at its best.

*My feelings about religion that no one asked for: Sometimes scientists build weapons that are used to kill and maim thousands of people while others are out there finding a cure for polio. Religion, like most things, really depends on the person practising it.

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Radio Silence

TRIGGER WARNING: There is an emotionally abusive parent in this book.

What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?

Frances is a study machine with one goal. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside. Then Frances meets Aled, and for the first time she’s unafraid to be herself.

So when the fragile trust between them is broken, Frances is caught between who she was and who she longs to be. Now Frances knows that she has to confront her past. To confess why Carys disappeared.

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.

Engaging with themes of identity, diversity and the freedom to choose, Radio Silence is a tour de force by the most exciting writer of her generation.

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Radio Silence by Alice Oseman is a complicated world of inclusivity, art, heartbreak and abuse wrapped up in one of the most compelling coming-of-age stories I have read in a long time.

Can I be super honest about something? When I opened the book and read that Oseman is only 21-years-old, I wanted to hate Radio Silence. The fact of her set every alarm bell in my head screaming: FAILURE. But then I remembered that thing I read somewhere that said everybody is on their own timeline, and tried very hard to put it to the back of my mind. Like I have to do every time I read something written by Tavi Gevinson. Sometimes you have to love the thing more than the thing makes you feel bad about yourself, because if I had decided not to read this book, I would have missed out.

Radio Silence is a character driven contemporary that rejects the heteronormativity and romance that dominates the genre. It presents us with a familiar situation: outcast girl meets outcast boy, sets the scene for what we expect to be yet another epic teen romance and then denies us. Frances explains it best: “You probably think that Aled Last and I are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and I am a girl. I just wanted to say – We don’t. That’s all.”

Oseman does this throughout the novel: she acknowledges our assumptions – of straightness and whiteness, etc – gives them some serious side eye, and then blasts past them in order to let her characters be their fully expressed selves.

This rejection of ‘traditional’ narrative is also apparent in the writing itself. Radio Silence is a book concerned with options and with identity and even the structure of the book demonstrates this. Each part of the novel is identified with a school term and that term is then separated into parts a, b, and c. It reminded me of an exam, where you get to choose whether to answer question a, b or c and was reflective of the way in which Frances, Aled and their friends were choosing which life to lead: one where they lived up to the expectations of their parents/themselves, one where they lived in the way they wanted to while appearing to live up to expectations of their parents/themselves, or one where they threw it all out the window and instead decided to live a life they really truly wanted.

Radio Silence also engages with online culture in a very authentic and satisfying way. The book is set around a Welcome To Nightvale-style podcast that Aled and Frances work on together, and through that story, Oseman analyses the positives and negatives of online life, particularly for those who have gained a following. On the one hand, we see a space where people get to express themselves and their identities in a way they might not be comfortable to do at school – Universe City, Aled Last’s podcast has a gender neutral narrator – but on the other, a world in which people receive death threats by strangers who have decided their identity is offensive. Oseman presents a volatile space and asks us to see the positive in it. After receiving a death threat, Aled tells his boyfriend that he’s demi-sexual, an identity he learned of online and that opened up an understanding of himself he had never had before. Negative offset by positive.

It’s an empowering read that resists tropes at every step from its dissection of the joys and heartbreak of platonic love to its unique take on intelligence in all its forms. You will finish Radio Silence with a little bit more hope than when you started.