Review: “Adaptation” by Malinda Lo

Title: “Adaptation”

Author: Malinda Lo

Genre: Sci-fi, paranormal, romance, GLBT, AWESOME

Publication Date: September 18, 2012 (Little, Brown FYR – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Reese and David don’t remember what happened to them after a bird flew into their headlights on the Extraterrestrial Highway–not the resulting car accident and certainly not a bit of the 21 days of care at the military hospital in Nevada. It’s a good thing, the doctors and colonels tell them, that they crashed on a military base, but they won’t tell Reese and David what the extent of their injuries were, or how they were healed. They do tell them they’re not going home, though, until they sign a confidentiality agreement.

When they get home, Reese can’t help but find everything a little weird. Worldwide bird strikes resulting in plane crashes have grounded air travel, David won’t talk to her, and she could swear she’s seen her military doctors around the neighborhood. It’s only when she meets Amber Grey that things in her life begin to really fall apart, and the mysteries of the bird strikes, the military, and her own treatment come together. Reese realizes that she must find out what they did to her in that hospital, but her search for the truth threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.

What if we aren’t alone in the universe? What if the alien is inside us?

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a wonderful homage to “The X-Files” and a great look at the changing teenage body.

Review: As a kid I grew up watching “The X-Files” – since its pilot to the very end, actually. I’m a huge fan of the paranormal/paranoid government conspiracy genre, and have been kinda sad that YA doesn’t have enough paranoid government stuff in its canon. Well, now with “Adaptation”, all of that has changed. This is a wonderful homage to the show I grew up with, and an awesome turn on YA romance and the developing YA body. The questions of “what am I, really?” and “Does it matter if I love a boy or a girl”? are kind of at the forefront here as Reese figures herself out, making for some of the best reading of the year.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Lo’s work – I loved her take on traditional fairytales in the “Ash/Huntress” duology, so when I heard that she was doing a sci-fi book next, I got really excited. And I’m glad to say that I was not disappointed in the least. This book, along with David Levithan’s “Every Day” and Elizabeth Norris’ “Unraveling”, really gives me hope for the speculative fiction sub-genre for YA. All of the technical areas here were crisp and clean, even in ARC form, and I had no issues with them whatsoever. So instead, I’ll talk more about the interesting interplay of the idea of literally being an alien while growing up as a teenager – because that, metaphorically, really tantalized me.

I think as teenagers, at some point or another, feel like aliens in our own body or among our peers. In this story, that literally turns out to be the case after a violent crash on the highway near Area 51 in Nevada for Reese and David, who experience vivid flashbacks of what happened inside the installation while trying to cope with the state of emergency declared due to unnatural amounts of bird strikes downing planes all over the world. There’s also the romance element – the sense of “does it matter what kind of package a person is?” in order to fall in love with them. Amber and Reese experience that love, and make the LGBT element almost a sci-fi element alone based on that vulnerable romance we’ve all experienced at least once or twice at that age. Not only is this one of the most realistic and awesome romances I’ve read in YA in quite awhile, there’s also NO love triangle. While there are some unresolved feelings for David, it’s been made clear that Amber and Reese are together, and that Reese has chosen Amber over undeveloped, unresolved feelings for her male friend. An interesting choice, as many other YA authors would have played it the other way around – making it a blatant love triangle where the heroine is pressured to choose. There’s no pressure here, only the sense of “who is this person I’ve become?” and “who is this person I’ve fallen in love with?” – a lot of questions that do eventually get answered in some way or another at the end of the book.

What makes this book interesting is that it’s not pure sci-fi or paranoid government conspiracy elements – it intercuts with very real YA contemporary elements (discovering oneself through romance, mainly) and the feeling of one’s changing body into something more, of growing up. Reese teeters on the brink of human and alien, not knowing if she’s either, or, or both, and though it’s a realistic situation (much like the characters in Elizabeth Norris’ “Unraveling” – where you feel you might literally be from a different universe compared to your peers), the metaphor of being a teenage alien really brought things home for me. I related very deeply to Reese’s romance issues, and to her feeling that she may literally be becoming something more than human (though I know I’m definitely no alien). The changing human teenage body as alien is a very interesting idea for the YA audience to play with, and I think Lo did a fantastic job here with slyly and quietly asking that idea as subtext. This book plays on all of the vulnerable YA areas of general romance, growing up, trust, first love, and self-discovery, and does a fantastic job with all of them.

However, at the end of the book, we do get more questions that won’t get answered until book two, and that was a bit frustrating (but in the best way). I seriously cannot wait for the sequel, and I hope that David gets a turn next when it comes to POV narration, as I wanted to know more of what he was going through compared to Reese – this was Reese’s book, it felt like, more than it was the tale of two teens caught in a global (and very real) conspiracy. I wanted a bit more balance there, so I’m hoping that’ll happen in book two.

Final verdict? If you’re a YA sci-fi fan, speculative fic fan, or “X-Files” fan, you CANNOT miss this release. Even if you’re not a fan of any of the aforementioned, I urge you to try this book out – I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised at how the LGBT elements of the book are introduced and used throughout the book. I know I was.

“Adaptation” will be out from Little, Brown For Young Readers in North America on September 18, 2012, so be sure to check it out then. Its place on my best of 2012 so far list is well-deserved indeed, and I can’t wait for book two!


2 thoughts on “Review: “Adaptation” by Malinda Lo

  1. Pingback: usagi’s challenges for 2012! | birth of a new witch.

  2. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves: Week 18 | birth of a new witch.

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