Frances Janvier is studying for her A levels and has one focus in mind- getting to Cambridge University. But this side of her is taking over her entire life and sometimes she forgets who she truly is, instead engulfed in being ‘school Frances’. But out of school she has a huge passion for youtube podcast Universe City. She meets the creator in the form of Aled and finally forms a friendship where she can truly be herself. However, before long their friendship is put at risk and Frances has to have the courage to face her past.
Probably the most notable aspect of this novel is how realistic it is. The characters are some of the most relatable I’ve read about. Frances herself is completely dedicated to her schoolwork, however she is also a bit of a nerd when it comes to Universe City. I love how fandom was incorporated into this book, making it entirely relatable to me, as I am a part of many fandoms. As well as this, I think another thing that lots of people will connect with is how she works so much to try and get into Cambridge, mainly because of other people’s expectations of her to do well academically. From the start, we can tell her true desire to do well lies in art. Another thing was how she acted a different way at school to at home and how most people didn’t know who she truly was. This was relatable, but also at times a little far fetched. I think the author slightly overestimated how easy it is to hide your true personality, because in my opinion it gets to a point where you can’t entirely not show what you care about, and this is bound to come out even just a little bit around people you spend so much time with in school. However this is just my view, I can’t speak for everyone when I say this. Let me know in the comments if you agree with me on this point or not, I would be interested to know!
Another thing I loved about this book was the diversity. Frances was half Ethiopian, half British and bisexual. Her friend Aled was asexual, which is something I have seen portrayed very little in books, and I loved to see it shown so realistically in this book. But none of this felt like it was put in for the sake of it, instead it felt honest and made the whole novel more realistic. Aled is a character I would like to talk about, specifically his and Frances’s friendship. It was brilliant how such a strong friendship was shown here between a girl and a boy, yet it stayed platonic. This is a huge strength of this book, because countless times in YA, these kinds of friendships end up romantic. I have one small criticism with the friendship- it just seemed a little far fetched that they would have such similar likes and dislikes. That was very unrealistic and unneeded, because often the strongest friendships are between people who like different things. I didn’t have a problem with Universe City, it was more the small things like having such similar fashion taste, liking the same music, liking the same TV shows etc.
Linking on from this, I felt within all of the realisticness (that probably isn’t a word…) there were lots of details that weren’t realistic at all. I can’t give specific examples or I will spoil it for you, but I found that Frances made lots of huge decisions that would change her whole life in a matter of seconds. I think these things should have been portrayed as more gradual ideas throughout the book rather than sudden announcements changing everything she worked for. But this is just a small complaint, overall it didn’t spoil the reading experience too much. One more problem I had, although this is more my personal opinion, was that the writing was just overly simplistic. I get that it is trying to be more informal and make Frances more of a real person, but I think it went just a little too much that way. It could have just flowed a little more and had a slightly wider range of vocabulary.
Despite the few problems I had concerning the writing and a few unrealistic decisions made, I found this book was a page-turner, relatable and full of diverse, interesting, realistic characters. The journey Frances went on throughout this book was an engaging, understandable one, and her and Aled’s friendship was wonderful to read about, and the definite highlight of the novel. I would recommend this book, as long as you don’t have too much of a problem with a quite simple writing style.