For three of my WWE Challenges this year (Women of Genre Fiction, LGBT SF, and SF Authors of Color) I finally picked up a Malinda Lo novel. Unsure whether to pick Ash – a Cinderella retelling with a lesbian twist – or Adaptation, I did the smart thing and flipped a coin.
Published by: Little, Brown, 2012
Ebook: 416 pages
Series: Adaptation #1
My rating: 6/10
First sentence: The birds plummeted to the tarmac, wings loose and limp.
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.
I see what the author did there. Normally I don’t start with what I disliked in a book but since it’s the most prevalent thought on my mind right now, I have to break with that rule. My biggest problem with Adaptation is that it reads like an unnecessary prequel to a much better story. On the one hand, Reese is discovering that she is bisexual and dealing with her new feelings and the questions that come with them. But this isn’t supposed to be an “issue novel” which is why you also get government conspiracies, genetic manipulation, and alien experiments. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, this is where some editing would have helped.
The story starts with a punch. Flocks of birds randomly fly into planes, causing them to crash all over the country. Other birds just plummet to the ground, commiting bird suicide. When airports are shut down, Resse, her debate partner David, and their teacher, rent a car to get back home from the national debates competition (which they lost) and madness ensues. This is exactly how a YA novel should start. Action follows action, but leaves enough room for setting up the characters, the tension between them, and giving them a life beyond what is happening right now. Reese and David end up in a hospital (read: secret government base) and are sent home after signing a non-disclosure contract forbidding them to speak to anyone about anything. So far, so interesting.
Once they are home, though, I would have expected them to at least talk to each other about the strange things that have happened to them. But no… they go on with their lives as if not much had changed. And this is when the tone of the novel flips to contemporary romance. Reese meets a girl named Amber and falls in love with her. The romance is well-written, no question, but during this middle part, all sfnal plot strings are abandoned in favor of just that: a romance. So Reese thinks she may be a lesbian, but she’s not sure because she’s had a crush on David for a long time. The obligatory talk with the mother is wonderfully drama-less and Reese can spend her time inspecting her feelings and what they mean. Only occasionaly does she think she should speak to David about what happened to them.
Again, none of this is badly written. I found the romance sweet and full of butterflies, but I picked this up because it is a science fiction book. The beginning promised all sorts of interesting ideas that are just put to the side because Romance Needs to Happen Now. After all, you can have a love life, and still try to figure out who the strange doctors were that magically healed your wounds without leaving a single scar, right? Right. Eventually, Reese does investigate, but things only get interesting again right at the end. In an exposition overload things are finally explained to her and David and the actual story is ready to start.
This is where my thought about editing came up. So many writers say that their first draft of any story is usually improved by chopping off the “beginning”. The story is supposed to begin when things get interesting, not wasting time setting it up for hundreds of pages. And that’s just the problem with Adaptation. I got the feeling that the real story begins where this novel ends. Everything that happens could be backstory, cleverly inserted into what will now be volume 2 of a series. Reese’s romance with Amber, her crush on David, their accident and regeneration… it would have made for excellent twists and reveals in a standalone book. Or flashbacks, if you’re into them.
But that’s just my wishful thinking. As YA novels go, this wasn’t bad. I suspect that, as a younger reader, I would have liked it much more, not spending so much time thinking of how to improve the story and just going with it. I’m not much of a romance reader and as such, I must say that I really enjoyed the little moments of tension – although I am getting mighty tired of the love triangle. At least this triangle is made more interesting in that it involves a heroine who has to choose between a boy and a girl.
Bottom line: Recommended, but don’t expect too much sci-fi.
Will I read the second book? Probably. You know… sometime.
RATING: 6/10 – Good