Adaptation, by Malinda Lo

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date -September 1, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) 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.

Thoughts: I’ve heard many good things about Malinda Lo’s writing, so taking a chance on Adaptation seemed like a sure bet. I was looking for a quick YA novel to keep me amused during an annoying stomach bug, something I knew I could enjoy but that wouldn’t require too much of me. YA novels tend to fit the bill for that, and as I browsed through my collection, reading first chapter after first chapter of about a dozen books and failing to be even remotely interested every time, I thought that maybe my plan was a poor one after all.

Then I came across this one, and it impressed me more than any of the others, so I settled down to read.

I was expecting many of the same things that I usually come across in YA speculative fiction, and in some ways, that wasn’t an unrealistic expectation. Adaptation features a female teenage protagonist, odd circumstances, a mystery involving both the US government and extraterrestrials, and romance. What I didn’t expect was the unusual pacing, and the fact that the primary romance was between two girls.

And that I felt more of an interest in that romance than I tend to feel for teenage romances in most novels.

Reese’s attraction to Amber was, quite frankly, adorable, and was a great echo of what many teens experience when they’re in that stage of their lives, thinking they define themselves one way and then having something happen that makes them consider. A good amount of the more mundane scenes of the novel were thick with the theme of labels, whether they’re worthwhile and when they just hinder the development of identity. Reese’s decision to not date, Reese’s feelings for both David and Amber, the mental battles of deciding just what those things meant, they were all great, very well done, and could probably be a cathartic experience for teens who are struggling with the same things in themselves. It’s like holding a sign that says, “You’re not the only one to wonder this, you’re not alone.”

The first half of the book is rather slow, piling small hint upon small hint while for the most part, life simply just takes place. It reads less like an adventure story and more like a coming of age tale set amid extraordinary circumstances. This is both the book’s blessing and its bane, since it’s a refreshing thing to see people acting like people, life going on while weird stuff happens because for most people, disasters and odd circumstances don’t stop the need to go to work or school, to meet friends and watch TV and read books and the dozens of things we do every day. On the other hand, it’s slow enough that many readers may well lose interest. he book starts with bird flocks attacking planes en masse, crashing flights and causing havoc. Panic breaks out. Reese’s teacher is killed right in front of her. Reese and David end up in a secret facility after a nasty car crash. And then… normality? Odd things keep happening, but after that hook at the beginning, spending about half a novel waiting for the plot to really get moving again got dull. It was an interesting presentation, unusual and realistic, but as I’ve mentioned in other reviews, realism doesn’t always make for the best reading. I can see a lot of people not being bothered to push past the everyday circumstances of Reese’s life to get back to the main mystery at hand, especially when much of it just takes place in the periphery.

Still, it was an interesting creative endeavour, and I have to hand Lo some serious praise for including some sexual diversity in Adaptation. Yes, it dips into the stereotype of Reese having a gay best friend, but sexual discovery is part of the teenage years, not everyone knows their orientation right out of the box, and it was nice to see that demonstrated in fiction. That aspect of realism was very welcome!

This isn’t a book for everyone. Uneven pacing and the way the novel goes from fast-paced mystery to coming-of-age tale felt a lot like the author forgot what she was writing about, until the second half of the book hits and we’re right back into the fast-paced mystery again. It wasn’t a bad novel, and it has a lot going for it, but also has a lot working against it. Still, it intrigued me enough that I’ll probably pick up the sequel when I get a chance, to see how more of the story plays out and how the characters grow and develop. The revelations toward the end open up a lot of possibility for further on down the line, and I want to see if and how certain questions get answered.

If you do pick this novel up and give it a read, then be warned that if you’re looking for something in the same vein as a lot of other YA speculative novels, you’re not really going to find it. It takes chances, does different things, and they don’t always work. But it’s the chances that it takes that make this book worthy of attention in the first place. Adaptation may be a prime example of Your Mileage May Vary. Some will love it for the way it stands out. Others will hate it for way that nothing happens for so long. It won an award for reasons I can understand, and got lackluster reviews from other readers that I also understand. Time will tell as to whether this book, and its sequel, will make waves or just become fading ripples.

6 comments on “Adaptation, by Malinda Lo

  1. It sounds like the manuscript could have used some editing (or maybe a light beating) in order to deal with some of the pacing issues. That said, it is an intriguing premise, so this may be worth a read. :) Great review!

    • I still can’t decide whether the pacing issue was a positive thing because of the realism, or a negative thing because of how it affected story flow. Was it intentional or an oversight? I might have to email the author and ask. :p

  2. Huh, interesting. I grabbed this one when it was read now on NG, so I shall tackle it when I’m looking for something a little quirky ;-)

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  5. This actually sounds really good. I’m fairly picky when it comes to YA, there are many common traits to the category that just don’t work well for me as a reader, but the differences you point out makes it sound like it could by one of those YA books that I do really enjoy.

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