- By Pat Schmatz
- Candlewick Press
- 288 pp.
- Reviewed by Yasmine Massac
- November 4, 2015
A teen struggles with multiple identities in this winning, near-future tale.
Pat Schmatz has written a standout new novel in the YA sci-fi genre. Lizard Radio tells the story of 15-year-old Kivali, a teen struggling with her identity as she tries to find her place in the world of the not-too-distant future.
Kivali doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere, including in her own skin. Is she a girl? Or maybe a boy? Is she human? Or maybe a lizard? An alien? Is she all of these things? Or perhaps none?
These are the questions that haunt Kivali as she tries to figure out how to define herself in a society that forces people to conform to a particular identity and strictly forbids gender fluidity.
When Kivali’s foster mother, Sheila, suddenly drops her off at an agricultural camp, Kivali feels lost and abandoned. She struggles to do what is expected of her as a girl, while also trying to hide her ambiguous identity lest she be found out and exiled.
But her confusion about her gender and where she comes from, along with her inquisitive nature and feelings for her friend Sully, complicate things. Meanwhile, each of Kivali’s different identities is warring with the others, like fragments of broken glass that can’t quite fit back together no matter how hard she tries.
Perhaps the biggest issue Kivali faces, however, is keeping all of her identities secret. But how do you hide something that is a part of you? How do you conceal the very things that make you you — especially when there are government workers watching and dissecting your every move?
Unsure of whom she can trust, what is the truth, and what is a lie, Kivali must learn to navigate the society that she has suddenly been thrust into and that, up until now, Sheila has kept her largely protected from. But the rigid structure of the agricultural camp is completely at odds with Kivali’s unconventional upbringing and her rebellious spirit.
While she wants nothing more than to feel like she belongs and to be a part of the group, she can’t help but question everyone around her — including the motives of the camp director, Ms. Mischetti — and she can’t shake the feeling that things aren’t quite right.
But asking too many questions means facing ever more scrutiny, and in trying to get to the bottom of the truth, Kivali faces being exiled to a dangerous and crime-ridden district known as Blight.
Schmatz does an amazing job of illustrating the struggle of figuring out one’s identity and learning to be comfortable with it, a theme relevant to not only those who identify as gender-fluid, gender non-binary, and/or LGBT, but to everyone struggling to find their place in the world.
Of the book’s few flaws is the ending; I was disappointed because it feels a bit anticlimactic. Schmatz gives us a lot of buildup, only for things to fizzle out. Additionally, while I mostly enjoyed the author’s poetic style, there were times when I felt like the use of metaphors and flowery language was overdone and worked against the story.
Still, even if poetic, metaphor-heavy novels aren’t your thing, I encourage you to give this book a read. Lizard Radio is extremely well done, and it will leave you eager to get your hands on more of Pat Schmatz’s novels.
Yasmine Massac is a recent college grad looking to broaden her experience as a freelance writer and editor. She is a lover of all things sci-fi and fantasy-related and is always looking for new books to read. She hopes to one day write her own novels and edit fiction professionally. In the meantime, you can find her at her new blog, where she posts about anything and everything under the rainbow.