What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?
Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.
But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.
Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…
She has to confess why Carys disappeared…
Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.
It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.
Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.
First off, this book deserves all the love. Seriously, I don’t understand why this book isn’t more popular. It’s compelling, I found myself so invested that I couldn’t put it down. I’m just going to put it out there, before I go any further, there is a strong chance this is going to be less a review, and more of a love letter to this book, and everything it does.
First things first, the characters, they really make this book. They are so easy to care about, it’s the characters that make this book so difficult to put down, and just putting it out there, I would love a sequel or companion novel about some of these characters! Main character Frances, seventeen years old, a study machine with her sights on Cambridge University (one of the top Universities in the UK), she is also a secret fangirl. She spends her free time creating fan art for her favourite podcast, but keeps that side of her life secret from her school life. Her character is really well-developed and three-dimensional, I related to her and I genuinely want to be her friend. All her academic energy is focused on being the best she can be in order to get accepted to study at Cambridge university. But she doesn’t actually enjoy studying, she enjoys fandoms, creating fan art and sharing it on Tumblr. But she keeps that side of herself locked away, School Frances is quiet, studious and sensible, she sits on the outskirts of her friendship group and doesn’t engage much. The other Frances wears bright, nerdy clothes, and can ramble about her favourite fandoms for hours. We also have Aled, the quiet boy across the road, who secretly is the creator of Frances favourite podcast. I adored the friendship that developed between Frances and Aled, the way they each came out of their shells over shared interests.
In terms of diversity, this book definitely has a diverse cast of characters. Frances is mixed race, she is also bisexual. Both of these identities are discussed on the page. This book also features a gay, Asian character, a Hindu character, and a character who identifies as asexual. This is the first book I have ever read where a character actually identifies themselves as asexual, which means so much to me as a person who identifies on the ace spectrum. There is a discussion on the page where labels are discussed, a character talks about how “demisexual” is also a label that fits, but ultimately chooses to identify as asexual.
Something I really liked about this book was the message that you do not have to go to university to succeed. It is a flaw of the UK education system that university is portrayed as the only path to success, it’s really pushed on students. I know this from experience, and I’m not saying university is bad, but there are other ways to succeed. I really appreciated this discussion, because when I was in 6th form I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, and was extremely hesitant about getting in to that much debt, studying something picked on a whim with no idea where it would take me. When I shared these concerns with my teacher, she was not at all helpful and couldn’t even thing of any alternative paths. Luckily I took control, and managed to find courses which suited me, and led me towards a career that suits me. Tangent over, the point is, I liked that the characters were allowed to doubt and to consider other options, and I really liked that it showed a character who struggled to get good grades, who didn’t go to university, being successful in their own right. It’s not a narrative you get to see very often, and it’s inclusion was really important to me. I wish this book had been around when I was 16/17, it would have really reassured me.
As you might have gathered, this book spoke to me in a number of ways, and has impacted me greatly. It’s really well written and easy to get into, plus there are so many fandom references, which I totally loved. I highly recommend it, and obviously give it 5/5 stars.
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