Alice Oseman is the Queen of YA Contemporary

I’ve read a good deal of YA contemporary in my time. (No, I am not a fifty year old man. Yes, I just said ‘in my time’. I am chock full of multitudes. Work with me here.) I’ve read the veritable modern classic, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’ve read the incredibly important book, The Hate You Give. I’ve read the 2010s sensations, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy. I’ve read various John Green novels. I’ve read the straight shot of serotonin into the nerves that is Red, White and Royal Blue, and I’ve read the slightly darker and, quote-unquote, ‘edgier’ romance (I swear, I’m not a fifty year old man), Emergency Contact. 

Unfortunately, I have never read an author who can write teenagers like Alice Oseman. Oseman has four published novels – Solitaire, Radio Silence, I Was Born for This, and Loveless. She has an average rating of 4.25 stars from me. That’s pretty goddamn impressive in my book. (Haha, get it? Book? I know, I’m hilarious.) She also has two five star ratings from me which is nearly unheard of. There are exactly two authors that I’ve read that have more than one book that I’ve given five stars. They’re rare, is what I’m saying. I’m rather miserly with them. 

So imagine my surprise when an author comes along with not one book, but two – in a genre that I historically find to be average at best – and I feel obligated to give them both five stars. No, like seriously. Imagine my surprise. If you can’t, Alice Oseman probably can since this woman seems to have a direct pathway into my brain and scoops out thoughts she sees in there and dumps them onto the page in quite a lovely and enjoyable way that makes me feel emotions at her leisure. I can’t even be upset about the fact that someone seemingly knows my every thought since I get Radio Silence in return. 

I’m not the first person to call her books relatable. But guys. Her books are really, really relatable. 

I usually end up finding myself in depressed, anxious, bookish millennial to gen z women in literary fiction novels dealing with themes of general sadness, grief, lack of identity, insecurity, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and more sadness. Yes, it is slightly concerning. No, I am not going to look too closely at that one. 

I did not imagine that I would find myself Radio Silence or Solitaire. But I did (obviously). 

Here’s the thing. Alice Oseman writes teenagers who don’t think that being a teenager is anything particularly special. I am a teenager who doesn’t think that being a teenager is anything particularly special. She’s not going to give you a chronically ill teen falling in love and realising these are the #bestyearsofherlife. She’s not going to give you a character having a mental breakdown over not having kissed a guy as a teenager and then kissing a guy as a teenager and then it’s the #bestyearsofherlife. She’s not going to give you a lot of romance at all. She is going to give you amazing mental health rep, and just amazing representation in general. (Solitaire definitely has some questionable representation but Radio Silence onwards have really good rep. Also, she was seventeen when Solitaire was published and there is a newer version where some of the shitty stuff was edited out.) She is going to give you platonic male female friendships and female friendships and stress the importance of goddamn friends. She is going to give you loveable characters. She is going to give you nerdy characters who come into themselves without overly romanticising and fictionalising the experience of being a teenager while still making it fun to read about. 

Her books are absolutely worth a read. 

*****

Oseman may only be in her early twenties but she’s got a lot published. This is the order in which you should read her works + my quick thoughts on the ones that I’ve read (which is almost everything).

  1. SOLITAIRE (5 stars)

[TW: ED and Depression]

This is Oseman’s first published book and it’s one of my favourites. The book follows it’s main character, Tori Spring, who has undiagnosed depression which she reacts to with dry, sarcastic humour, her growing friendship with Michael Holden, and burgeoning interest in Solitaire, a group of online pranksters. Neither character has very many friends and it’s a strikingly honest portrayal of the isolation of being a young person, basically. 

  1. RADIO SILENCE (5 stars)

Alice Oseman’s second book follows another friendship. This time between Frances Javier and Aled Last. Frances is studious and ambitious, consistently scoring first in her class with dreams of Cambridge. She’s also the (fictional) podcast Universe City’s biggest fan and creates fanart online. It’s a more diverse Fangirl focused on platonic relationships and high schoolers. It’s also another one of my favourite books. 

  1. I WAS BORN FOR THIS (3 stars)

I really enjoyed this and there were definitely a few moments that had me feeling EMOTIONS, but this didn’t quite hit the way that Solitaire and Radio Silence did. That’s probably just a personal thing, but as always, even if this wasn’t my favourite Oseman novel, her talent with natural diversity, fascinating relationships of all kinds (platonic, familial, one sided, the friendship that exists only for a moment and the friendship that exists for a lifetime), heart wrenching stories and loveable, flawed and complex characters shines through as always.

I just never had an intense 1D phase. That’s it, that’s the review. Basically, I’m probably wrong so disregard everything I just said except when I was complimenting Alice Oseman.

  1. LOVELESS (4 stars)

Fantastic asexual, pansexual, and lesbian representation, sad girls at university, theatre, female friendships, questioning sexuality and a lovely coming of age story. What more can you ask for? Oh, right. Lovely characters that are easy to root for, an appreciation of platonic relationships and believable bonds being built (loving that alliteration moment for me). Honestly, just read this book. 

  1. HEARTSTOPPER (Graphic Novels: Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4)

Straight shot of serotonin into the goddamn VEINS, man. That’s all I have to say. You can read this completely independently or you can read Solitaire first (Charlie Spring, one of the side characters from Solitaire is a main character in Heartstopper). 

  1. THIS WINTER AND NICK AND CHARLIE

I have read This Winter (no rating, I don’t rate novellas), but I haven’t read Nick and Charlie. Both are novellas and spin off stories of the characters in Heartstopper, though we also see Tori from Solitaire. This Winter was lovely and a soft, quick, fluffy Christmas read. These can be read at any point but I would suggest reading at least one volume of Heartstopper or at least Solitaire before reading either of these. It’s unlikely that you would enjoy it if you didn’t already care about the characters.

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