Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Review: Adaptation by Malinda Lo
Tags: YA, sci-fi, aliens, LGBT, love triangle
Reese and her debate partner David are about to fly home from a national debate tournament when shocking bird strikes make planes fall out of the sky and ground all North American air travel. In trying to get home to San Francisco via rental car, Reese and David get into a terrible accident and receive medical treatment that heals them, but requires them to sign a strict nondisclosure agreement.
Returned to San Francisco and forced to act as if nothing out of the ordinary happened to them, Reese and David nevertheless discover that they are not quite the same as they used to be. Any injuries they sustain heal impossibly quickly, and there are other, stranger qualities they’ve developed that they find difficult to talk about. In the meantime, Reese struggles to understand herself as her romantic feelings are pulled in two unexpectedly different directions. But for whatever reason, the government refuses to let her and David go, and they race against the infinitely superior resources of the government to figure out what’s happened to them, and what will happen to them next
Malinda Lo takes her readers way outside her previous fantasy genre with her third novel, ADAPTATION, which I suppose I would describe as “sci-fi lite.” While the events of ADAPTATION were at times hard for me to immerse myself in, Lo adds a refreshing LGBTQ element to her story that may encourage readers typically reluctant to pick up sci-fi to give this a try.
Part 1 was mind-blowingly awesome. Scary events—bird strikes downing planes, people forgetting their humanity in the face of their impending mortality, Reese and David struggling to make it home as transportation unravels around them—unfolded in an ominously quick fashion reminiscent of apocalyptic movies. I hardly breathed as I followed Reese and David through a “road trip” fraught with danger, one that led them right up to the accident that changed their lives forever.
…And then the rest of the book becomes…weird, and awkwardly paced. Obviously there’s a speculative element to the story, as the story hints of weird things occurring to Reese and David’s bodies and minds—though nothing is confirmed until the end of the book, in a manner that seemed rather far-fetched despite all the hints that were dropped throughout. In Part 2 and beyond, ADAPTATION loses the steam it had been so excellently accumulating, and becomes a plodding and seemingly endless period of rising action where little happens and the characters run into more and more questions but don’t get any answers. Why is this so often a symptom of YA novels, for which I thought good pacing was key? Little (with the exception of one thing, which I will discuss next) happens in the middle third or so of this book, and the effect of cramming all the information-revealing actions into the last few chapters of the book was that I was left unpleasantly disoriented and unprepared for the shocking curves the story threw us at the end.
I have mixed feelings about Reese’s romantic conflicts in ADAPTATION. On the one hand, what Lo always does well in her stories is give lesbian interactions and relationships the full consideration and respect they deserve. This is especially significant in a current publishing world where heterosexual romances often seem written into a story for the sake of having a romance, not because the MC actually learns anything through the experience of a romantic relationship. It adds some well-appreciated novelty to the typical YA love triangle trope. On the other hand, the balance between ADAPTATION’s romantic and sci-fi plotlines felt uneven—most especially in the nothing-happens-sci-fi-wise section of Part 2—and the two seemed to come too easily together in the end for me to believe that these characters and their predicaments could exist outside the realm of fiction.
And that, I think, is my ultimate feeling toward ADAPTATION. It’s a technically precise YA thriller with LGBTQ aspects, but its uneven pacing never let me forget that I was reading a YA novel that would probably better enthrall a younger audience that may not yet appreciate the shockingly possible dystopian worlds of books like 1984 or The Hunger Games. It fits the current trend of YA sci-fi-ish thrillers with more-or-less plausible premises that nevertheless rely on their assumption of your investment in the book’s “mystery” to keep reading.
R. J. Anderson (Ultraviolet)
Robin Brande (Into the Parallel)
Cover discussion: I'm not sure how much it has to do with the actual story, but it looks pretty cool nevertheless.
Little, Brown / Sept. 18, 2012 / Hardcover / 400pp. / $17.99
e-galley received from publisher and NetGalley.