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Adaptation by Malinda Lo


Flocks of birds are hurling themselves at aeroplanes across America. Thousands die. Millions are stranded. Everyone knows the world will never be the same.

For Reese, though, this is just the start. Torn between longtime crush David and new girl Amber, the real question is: who can she trust?
Whenever one asks for recommendations of queer genre fiction, Lo’s name is one of the first to come up, and increasingly it is Adaptation rather than Ash or Huntress that people specifically name. So, in the interests of seeing how it stacks up, I gave it a read.

As far as young adult science fiction goes, Adaptation is in many ways straight down the middle: love triangles, unexplained occurences to be unpicked, rebellion against the government, and so on. Lo does manage to add a number of twists of her own; the mysteries are numerous, layered and not obviously connected, and the opening chapters of the novel are almost mundane. Lo keeps Reese’s concerns very grounded, as much about her own personal feelings as about the consequences of the crash and strange after-events that form the early part of the novel; Adaptation in that regard manages to have some interesting things to say about young adults and their concerns, that simultaneously they can worry about their love life and about apparent mass deaths and possible terrorist attacks.

The characters are relatively strong, but a little odd. Adaptation has a cast largely made up of curious, intelligent late-teens, and yet none of them are particularly curious, certainly not openly so, about what’s happened to them; while Julian, the self-proclaimed gay best friend, is engaged with conspiracy theories, the rest of the cast seem to blithely be willing to not care about the nonexplanations for a huge disaster that has knocked them all off track. Although their curiosity does indeed increase across the course of the novel, Lo doesn’t ever really make much of it, and the actual actions of the cast are more reactions than proactive; they are acted upon far more than acting.

Adaptation also doesn’t really paint them as terribly interesting people. David, Julian, Reese, Amber… all seem strangely similar and somewhat flat; they’re not very individualised, unlike the adult cast who are much more part of the background. With Reese especially, whom we follow throughout the novel, there doesn’t seem to be anything going on underneath the surface; no character development, no real change in who she is or how she interacts with the world. Given what happens to her across the course of the novel, the complete lack of changes is rather striking; that it’s hard to distinguish her from any of the rest of the cast is simply frustrating.

Adaptation does deserve kudos for being a very diverse novel, mind you. Of our central cast, one is an illegal immigrant, one is a half-black, half-Jewish gay man, one is it turns out bisexual, and one is of Far Eastern origin; Lo doesn’t remark on or emphasise this at all but integrates it as simply a normal part of life. Special emphasis is laid on how liberal San Francisco is about sexuality but that seems a little forced, as if Lo is trying to persuade the reader of something; but as far as the characters themselves go, diversity is simply a part of their world and their selves, and that’s wonderful to see.

Adaptation has been frequently described as extra-ordinary, and in some ways, it absolutely is. In many regards, though, it doesn’t rise above the average YA novel, and even falls short of that; not a stellar achievement, really.


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