Adaptation by Malinda Lo – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

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.

You can read an excerpt here.


I’ll admit it – I’m a life-long, card-carrying X-Files fangirl, and The X-Files will always be the standard by which I judge all spooky sci-fi stories such as this. But Malinda Lo, as it turns out, is also a die-hard X-Files fan, which only made me all the more excited to pick up her first foray into sci-fi. And so with high hopes and higher standards, I cracked open this book – so perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that Adaptation just couldn’t live up to my expectations.

Oh but how very, very well this story started out. Adaptation roars out of the gate with a deliciously creepy, X-Files-y sense of foreboding, and it dances up and down the spine in marvelous fashion, utterly disquieting as it slowly builds to the realiztion that Something’s Out There – and I was IN. So there I was, completely enthralled and enjoying every minute, when suddenly, about a third of a way through, this book made an abrupt left turn and morphed into a contemporary romance. Suddenly this story was ALL about the kissing and sighing and longing and dating, and I just found myself going, wait, WHAT?

Now don’t get me wrong, the romantic scenes are very sweet – and I loved loved LOVED that Lo was exploring the emotional upheaval of a girl discovering she’s bisexual (something I literally have never read in YA before) – but it still felt kind of like dropping off a narrative cliff. I just kept sitting there, waiting impatiently for all the cool conspiracy/creepy stuff to reemerge, but it was quite a long wait – though of course, yes, there is a point to all the smooching, and it does set up a major plot development (though wow did I see it coming a mile away). But still, the romantic interlude just kind of stalls out all the lovely momentum the book had been building up to that point, and frankly it made the narrative feel a little schizophrenic.

And then, to add to my confusion, when the sci-fi finally did re-emerge from the romance, all of a sudden the book took ANOTHER left turn, and instead of returning to the type of story it started out as, it instead became an entirely different kind of sci-fi, one far more broad and X-Men-y than X-Files. And so there I was, left blinking in the dust like Wile E Coyote, with no idea as to what Lo intended this book to be – it’s almost like it had three distinct acts, each a different genre, and the way the story lurched from one to the next just gave me whiplash.

Still that’s not to say this book doesn’t hold together – it all makes sense, and the final reveals do certainly explain everything – but frankly I though the answers themselves were disappointingly broad and generic and, well, trope-y. Gah. It was just so very, very frustrating – Lo started this story off with such distinction, with such gripping tension – the lonely highway, the pervasive sense of wrongness – and then I just had to sit there and watch it all peter away, buried by romance and drowned by generic sci-fi conventions. ARGH.

So in the end, Adaptation is a story that could have been great, but sadly ended up falling far short of its promise – and to be frank, I expect more of Malinda Lo than this.

Byrt Grade: B+/B

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Review says:

Lo manages a diverse cast (Asian-American smart stud; gay conspiracy nut; debate nerd) without ever falling into stereotypes, but unfortunately, the same is not always true of the plot. Despite the weaker second half, slot this on the shelf between Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and The X-Files.

Publishers Weekly says:

Focusing on Reese’s experience, this novel takes off like a shot, but slows a bit once Reese meets Amber, a pink-haired skateboarder who’s new to town. From there, the plot fluctuates between the romance between Reese and Amber and an action-packed SF thriller.

The Teen Librarian’s Toolbox says:

So here’s how it plays out: you’re moving along the alien conspiracy highway in this compelling science fiction adventure then – bam – you hit a brick wall of oddly developed and too quickly to be believed romance that totally stops you in your tracks, and then you slowly begin to pick up speed again on the alien super highway. The first and the last parts work but the middle not so much…