Malinda Lo’s recent young adult novel, Adaptation, is a perfect blend of the sci-fi and romance genres, with a believable and diverse cast of characters. It’s also a departure from the author’s previous fairy tale novels, Ash and Huntress, making her a force to be reckoned with across the YA literature spectrum.
Reese Holloway, the main protagonist, is a teenage girl living in San Francisco in a not too distant future. She has a loving and supportive mother and a devoted best friend, her conspiracy theory obsessed buddy Julian (who just happens to be half-Black, Jewish and gay). Reese has been struggling with a sense of disappointment in love since her parents have separated, and she has vouched to herself that she will not date anyone. That still doesn’t keep her from having a big crush on David Li, her debate team partner, who has been cast in my mind as a slightly younger Steve Yeun (aka Moxie’s Boyfriend). On their way back from an out-of-state debate meet, a series of strange disasters involving flocks of disoriented birds leads up to a car accident, which would have left Reese and David for dead, were it not for a mysterious team of doctors and researchers in the Nevada desert. Returning home, the two young people find themselves with a lot of questions, which makes for an interesting and twisty plot. (Some very minor spoilers ahead.)
Lo’s novel, which already has a sequel scheduled for release in 2013, is genre fiction that still keeps focus on a relatable narrative about teenagers developing and questioning their adult identities. The story lies predominantly with Reese, who is already struggling with untangling everything that happened to her in the Nevada desert, and suddenly finds herself with a lot more to process when she begins to develop romantic feelings for a girl named Amber, a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl type. Lo handles it with great tenderness, as Reese begins to open up and move past her stoic promise to remain unattached, while trying to understand her emerging queer identity. Their relationship is set against the backdrop of a troubled climate, as the nation asks questions about the recent bizarre occurrences and demands that its government (led by a female president, no less) deliver some answers.
In Adaptation, themes of identity and trust are deftly woven through the plot, but if I had to raise one major criticism, it would be the pacing of the book. The initial two thirds of the book are perfectly paced, allowing the eerie conspiracy theory plot to serve as setting for the character driven narrative. Then, everything suddenly becomes bigger: more sci-fi, more action, more curveballs. I understand that Lo’s intent was to build up to a certain cliffhanger that would pave the way for the following book, but I also feel the last section would have benefited from a little more breathing room. I also hope that in the following book, Julian and David are given a little bit more opportunity to shine, not because I don’t feel Reese and Amanda carry the plot well on their own, but because all four of the young people are just that captivating as characters.
All in all, Adaptation is a fun, action packed young adult novel, with some well-written romantic elements. It ends with a wallop that will definitely have me picking up the sequel.