Malinda Lo’s latest, Adaptation, is a Sci-Fi Thriller Romance which means it has aliens and conspiracy theories and kissing. Sound fun? It is. Oh, and if you have ornithophobia (fear of birds), then it might not be for you. There are some scary birds in this book. In fact, that’s where the story starts.
Reese and her debate partner, David, are stranded at the airport with their coach on the way home from a tournament. A series of plane crashes, reportedly caused by large bird strikes, causes all flights to be cancelled and airspace to be closed until the authorities can be sure they understand the circumstances of the crashes. So the three rent a car to drive back home, only as panic builds in the general population, the roads are far from safe. Reese and David end up driving alone on the Extraterrestrial Highway and then another accident happens. A bird flies into their headlights and they crash. When they wake up in a military hospital in Nevada, no one will give them much information about their injuries or the treatment they received, and they must sign nondisclosure agreements before they can go home. They can’t even tell their parents about what happened to them. Keeping everything secret only gets harder when the massive scars from Reese’s injuries fade so quickly she can’t believe it, and she begins to have strange sensations that she has never felt before. Then she meets Amber, who is mysterious and beautiful and a welcome distraction, and Reese begins to have other feelings she’s never experienced, which is confusing enough, but even more so given that until Amber, she’d thought she was crazy about David. What really happened to Reese and David, and what are the implications for their futures, and for society at large?
The opening of Adaptation is super suspenseful and tension builds immediately. Lo does a brilliant job capturing the fear and the increasing panic after the bird attacks. You’ll be turning the pages fast. The pace does slow quite considerably once the romantic plot thread with Amber is introduced, and while you have to adjust to this a little bit, I think that the shift in pacing is true to Reese’s situation. It is entirely believable that she would throw herself into this new relationship as an escape, in order to feel something other than fear and worry. Also, the fact that her relationship with Amber gets a lot of focus makes it more believable and nuanced than I think it otherwise would be if it was introduced only in passing. I was surprised that it took centre stage, but not disappointed, as I think that their relationship mirrors and develops some of the themes Lo explores in the main plot: isolation, self-discovery, secrets, and connection.
There’s a sequel coming next year, and good thing too, because that ending is about as cliff-hanger-y as you can get.
Adaptation is published by Little, Brown.