Review of ADAPTATION by MALINDA LO
(review based on an advance reading copy)
In the interest of complete honesty, the premise of this book didn’t appeal to me at all. For starters, I don't read very much science fiction and the book's blurb doesn't emphasize anything especially striking about the characters or the story. However, I read Lo's previous two books - ASH and HUNTRESS, both fantasy - and liked them enough to trust her as a writer and take a chance on ADAPTATION. I'm glad I did, because I loved it. So why am I telling you about my initial skepticism? Because I'm hoping anyone else who isn't enticed at first impression will look again before dismissing this book.
So what's the premise? First, birds go crazy. They fly into planes and cause crashes and, therefore, mass fatalities. Second, our protagonist Reese and her debate partner/crush David suffer a terrible car crash in an attempt to flee the pandemonium. Third, Reese and David wake in a strange facility and a doctor informs them they've received a mysterious treatment. They can't leave until they sign confidentiality agreements and once they do return home, they both notice some unusual side effects. Last, the crazy birds and the mysterious treatment connect in unexpected ways. Oh, yes, and the American government, among other players, obviously has a withheld secret or two.
Though definitely science fiction, ADAPTATION falls on the soft science fiction end of the spectrum, with plenty that doesn't actually make much scientific sense, even as speculation, and cliché sci-fi twists that serve more as plot tools without scientifically satisfying explanations and logic (though they are satisfying by other measures; character development comes to mind). I think the gentleness of the sci-fi element helped me like ADAPTATION even though I'm not a big science fiction fan. After all, this story isn't about the premise, the science fiction, or the twists. No, it's about Reese, a teenage girl, an individual, a person, and a totally unique character. And her story's definitely worth reading.
The book has a rollercoaster pace. It opens with a leisurely scene in the airport that soon transforms into the bird chaos I've already loosely described and then that bizarre tragedy plunges downward into a painfully realistic chain of panicked events, speeding up faster and faster, until the car crash halts the pace to a slow crawl with Reese waking in an unknown location. From there, we follow her confusion over recent events as she fights for the normalcy of her life before the crash. Then a series of revelations sends us over the edge again and rushing along with no brakes towards an action and epiphany packed ending.
Lo handles romance with a rare realism. I love romance books or plot threads that meet my standards, but I'm an extremely picky romance reader and frequently grow annoyed with hollow, melodramatic, or overdone romances. Young adult themes often focus on discovering oneself in general, or narrowed to a specific aspect, but Lo's one of the minority examining romantic self-discovery from a new angle. Most books take for granted that everyone must want a typical girl meets boy happily ever after, but in truth plenty of people, teenagers and adults alike, don't yet know what they want from a relationship. Lo's known for writing gay and bi-sexual romances, but I'm not exclusively referring to that aspect of her romantic exploration. Reese doesn't know if she wants a relationship at all. Now or ever. Not that it stops her from feeling attraction, sometimes towards people who surprise her.
I recently discovered, from reading Lo's blog that ADAPTATION's the first in a duology. While I never would have known that without being told, it makes sense. The ending finds a nice closure point that satisfied me, but there's plenty of room for elaboration and a continuing story. I can't wait to read the next book and the final ending!