Author: Malinda Lo
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: September 2012
Hardcover: 400 pages
Reese can’t remember anything from the time between the accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: She’s different now.
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.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a duology
How did we get this book: e-ARCs from the Publisher (via NetGalley)
Why did we read this book: Ana has been a huge fan of Malinda Lo’s books for a while now. Ash was a top 10 in 2009 and she also loved Huntress. When we heard that Adaptation was a Scifi novel kinda-like The X-Files, both of us HAD to read it.
Reese, her debate team partner David and their teacher are at the airport on their way back home from a debate competition in Arizona when reports start to show that across the USA flocks of birds have hurled themselves into planes causing several of them to crash. Fearing terrorism, the government grounds all planes and their flight is cancelled. The trio manages to rent a car and on their drive home, an event of unspeakable violence sets Reese and David on a manic drive along an empty stretch of road in the middle of Nevada.
In the middle of the night, a bird crashes against their headlights and the car turns over. Horribly hurt, Reese and David are taken to a military hospital in the area where they undergo treatment to keep them alive.
When they wake up nearly one month later, everything is different. They just don’t know what yet.
I’ve been a fan of Malinda Lo’s novels for a while now – I loved Ash and enjoyed Huntress a great deal – and Adaptation is a huge departure from Lo’s previous books. Both Ash and Huntress were Fantasy stories in a secondary world setting, featuring lyrical writing and a coming of age motif at their centre. Adaptation is a contemporary (or rather, near-future) Science Fiction Thriller with a simple yet readable writing style. The writing of the book is probably my biggest point of contention here: Malinda Lo’s beautiful fairytale-ish lyrical style used up until now, obviously isn’t a good fit for a Thriller. As such, at times, I felt the writing to be vacillating between extremely capable and annoyingly clumsy. There are plenty of writing shortcuts that tell instead of show and my copy is littered with my underlining of examples:
“Adrenaline surged through her” “homesickness throbbing like a drumbeat inside her” “ a familiar flare of self-consciousness burned through her”.
And so on and so forth.
Another criticism I have is how the novel falters in terms of pacing. It starts kicking and screaming with an engaging, awesome and scary set-up. Then it sags in the middle as the plot meanders around a more romantic storyline then it eventually moves toward an extremely rushed ending.
I am not criticising the actual content of the story. I actually loved everything about it: the smart beginning and the SCIFI mystery (as well as the eventual revelation of what happened), the (hot) romance and how things ended. It is just that these aspects of the novel were not seamlessly woven together to form a coherent whole.
These things said, there is also a lot in Adaptation that is worth of praise and they come from the main motif (“adaptation”) ,its metaphors and the way those were worked in the text.
Just like the author’s previous books, Adaptation has a very strong element of coming of age and Reese’s internal arc is extremely bold for a YA novel – her coming of age involves not only the realisation that she is bisexual but that she also has feelings for two people at the same time. It goes beyond a stereotypical Love Triangle of Doom by actually engaging with the possible scenario of falling in love and having a relationship with two people at the same time. I am curious to see how this storyline progresses in the sequel and for the record: I thought Reese’s interactions with Amber to be a lot hotter than the ones with David. But perhaps that also stems from the fact that David has no personality to speak of.
I also loved how the novel ended in a way that was surprisingly serene. Although there is a “bang” that precedes the actual ending as Reese and David find out what happens to them, the denouement works really well with the theme of “adaptation ” and “identity” that runs through the novel. Ultimately, that’s what all characters in this world – in different ways – will have to do as the book comes to a close.
Adaptation is one of those rare, unique birds in YA: a good, cool and geek-friendly sci-fi story featuring an extremely diverse cast of characters and a beautifully portrayed bisexual protagonist.
I have some conflicted feelings when it comes to Adaptation. On the one hand, I love the idea of the book (familiar that it is), as it kinda reminds me not so much of The X-Files but of Roswell. Man, I loved Roswell.1 You’ve got the same basic setup of teenagers, humanoid aliens, special abilities, and government conspiracies (that aren’t nearly so dark or complex as The X-Files in scope or depth). I like the basic framework for the story as well as the overall storyarc, and felt the writing was engaging and even-handed.
I do, however, agree with Ana regarding the pace issues. Adaptation does start off fast and furious with an apocalyptic-style disaster scenario rippling across North America and two teens and their debate coach trying to find their way home. After The Accident, however, things cool down…a lot. There’s a disproportionate amount of time spent on Reese’s confusion and then a seemingly out-of-the-blue romantic storyline. While everything ties together by novel’s end, the sagging middle portion of the book is a bit disappointing. Too, the frenetic ending (involving another government facility and secrets revealed) feels rushed and not as developed as it could have been, which is a shame.
These criticisms said, my real issues lie with the main characters. While Ana says that David has no personality, I actually think this affliction applies to Reese as well. As a heroine, Reese is kind of a Bella. She’s nondescript. Pretty, awkward and reserved, serious and studious (but not TOO smart), the only thing we really know about Reese and her personality is that…she doesn’t want to date, and she apparently likes debate team (though we never really see her in action). Basically, Reese is utterly non-threatening in every imaginable way. David has no real traits either, other than his apparent shared love for debate (again, we don’t see any of this in action or any flashes of argumentative action, so it’s hard to tell), and the attraction he feels to Reese (mimicked by the attraction she feels to David). Then there’s Amber, the vivacious blonde pixie that inserts herself in Reese’s life conspicuously after Reese returns from her ordeal in Nevada and quickly becomes Reese’s flame. Amber has a bit more oomf than the other two characters combined, but still feels more like a stock figure than a fully fleshed out person.
Which brings me to my next point: I love that Reese is bisexual, that she feels attraction to both David and to Amber. I love that she’s not ashamed of these feelings, and I especially love the exchange between Reese and her mother after her mother catches her kissing Amber. The openness of this relationship, the love between mother and daughter, the tangled emotions that Reese feels for Amber and David are all very well done. In fact this, in addition to the plot (when it gets going), is my favorite aspect of Adaptation.
That said, it doesn’t change the fact that this IS another love triangle of doom and two of the people involved in it are kind of…duds. Reese falls for the Sexy Stranger who obviously is part of a plot, whose involvement with Reese is obviously manufactured – of course, Amber starts feeling something for her mark, too, which is yet another cliche. The fact that the love triangle features a bisexual character, a girl and a boy doesn’t change these basic facts. Of course, your mileage may vary – and perhaps I’m being unduly harsh as this is a book about identity and sexuality, much more than it is a science fiction novel.
On the bright side, Adaptation ends strongly and there’s plenty of room for growth in future books. I’ll stick around for more.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The birds plummeted to the tarmac, wings loose and limp. They struck the ground with such force that their bodies smashed into dark slicks on the concrete.
“What the—” Reese Holloway pushed herself out of the hard plastic seat facing the foor?to?ceiling windows. Outside, heatwaves rippled over the oil?stained runway. She glanced back at David, her forehead wrinkled. “Did you see that?”
David Li looked up from his book. “See what?” His dark brown eyes reflected the hard, bright daylight in tiny dots of white.
Reese tried to swallow the flutter of self?consciousness that rose within her as David met her gaze. She pointed at the windows. “These birds just fell dead from the sky.”
David’s eyebrows rose. “No way.”
You can read the excerpt HERE.
Ana: 7 – Very Good
Thea: 6 – Good
Reading Next: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Cat Valente
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- On a tangential note, I also JUST started watching Revenge and so have had Roswell on the mind thanks to seeing Nick Wechsler again after all these years! ↩