Across North America, flocks of birds hurl themselves into airplanes, causing at least a dozen to crash. Thousands of people die. Fearing terrorism, the United States government grounds all flights, and millions of travelers are stranded.
Reese and her debate team partner and longtime crush David are in Arizona when it happens. Everyone knows the world will never be the same. On their drive home to San Francisco, along a stretch of empty highway at night in the middle of Nevada, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won't tell them what happened, where they are--or how they've been miraculously healed.
Things become even stranger when Reese returns home. San Francisco feels like a different place with police enforcing curfew, hazmat teams collecting dead birds, and a strange presence that seems to be following her. When Reese unexpectedly collides with the beautiful Amber Gray, her search for the truth is forced in an entirely new direction--and threatens to expose a vast global conspiracy that the government has worked for decades to keep secret.
One of the recent trends that I’m really glad we’re seeing in YA is that of science fiction novels targeted at girls. A few years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a bona fide sci-fi novel in the YA section of the bookstore, and particularly not one promoted to female readers. As an adult reader of sci-fi and fantasy, of course, I could recognize quite a few sci-fi books trying their best to disguise themselves as dystopian novels (because really, a lot of “dystopian” novels are really just science fiction novels throwing on their best dingy clothes and some rusty accessories in the hope that teens who are put off by the idea of “sci-fi” won’t notice). Now, however, we’re seeing true sci-fi tropes and storylines cropping up in YA—generational spaceships in Beth Revis’ Across the Universe, cryostasis in Anna Sheehan’s A Long, Long Sleep, cyborgs in Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. To me this is exciting, because it means that the stigma that many teen girls associate with science fiction (that it’s geeky, or just for boys, or uninteresting) is loosening a bit.
And now I’m thrilled that we can add Malinda Lo’s Adaptation to the list of real YA science fiction. Adaptation is new ground for Lo, whose previous two books have been firmly high fantasy, so I was curious to see how she made the transition to sci-fi.
The answer is: Very Well. Adaptation starts off quickly with a Big Creepy Event—in this case, birds causing over 100 planes across America to crash in the space of a few hours—and doesn’t stop moving until the last page. What’s interesting initially is that, after introducing the weirdness, Lo doesn’t let Reese, her protagonist, experience much of it (though the part that she does experience is sufficiently nail-biting). Rather, Reese and her friend, David, miss the military lock-down that the rest of American experiences because of a car accident, and only wake up once the trouble has passed somewhat.
This adds to the other side of Adaptation, because the novel is as much a novel of conspiracy as it is sci-fi. (And no, I’m not going to spoil exactly how it’s sci-fi, though readers who are paying attention to where Reese’s car flips over will have a clue.) Reese, and thus the reader, spends a lot of the novel not knowing what’s real or who to trust, and Lo plays this aspect of the novel off with ease. This will continue into the sequel, as the novels ends with as many questions as it does answers.
So, in many ways, Adaptation is a complete divergence from Ash and Huntress, Lo’s first two novels. Where it doesn’t diverge is in the awesome relationships. That we have more LGTB character in YA is vastly important to Lo (and really, if you don’t read her blog, you should, because she always has insightful things to say on LGTB matters and diversity in YA), and she once again provides a compelling same-sex relationship as Reese discovers in the course of the novel that she’s bisexual, and this revelation results in a love triangle that made me gnash my teeth in indecision over who I liked best for her.
So pick up Adaptation if you’re looking for more YA sci-fi, or even if you’re a little hesitant about the genre. There’s more than enough in this book to appeal to a variety of reader, and I think you’ll be glad that you did.