Recommended for ages 14+
Bex is in a constant state of readiness. She just knows the Big Thing is coming – worldwide crisis, breakdown of society, whatever you want to call it – it’s coming, and she’s going to be ready. She trains, she preps, she plans. She’s the only one in her family that seems to have her eyes open, after all. Until her older brother Mark discovers Clearview, a new group that seems to take survival as seriously as she does. She’s not sure how she feels about a stationery place, at first; she feels like she’d do best on the move, in a smaller group, but she’s drawn in by the group, who seem to welcome her. They don’t appear to be like most survivalist camps – they don’t have a problem with Black members, for starters, and no one seems to care that she doesn’t look like most girls should – at least, according to what her mother thinks a girl should look like.
Bex is training and working at her uncle’s gas station when she meets Lucy – Lucy, who doesn’t have a problem holding her hand in public or with kissing another girl. While Bex lets herself get lost in Lucy, her brother, Mark, is falling in with some more extreme members at Clearview. He’s becoming more hostile and more secretive. Bex knows she should say something, but she’s used to her parents choosing Mark over her. There will come a time where Bex has to draw the line, though: can she save herself, even if it comes at the cost of her family?
Radical is a different kind of novel on several levels. Bex is a brilliant, breakout character, for starters. She’s a butch lesbian, a character we don’t normally see in LGBTQ YA fiction. She’s comfortable with herself, and frustrated with the discomfort of everyone around her: most notably, her mother, who constantly compares her to her more feminine, average teen cousin. Her father shares some of Bex’s survivalist interests, but treads between loving Bex for who she is and trying to smooth things between Bex and her mother; sadly, both parents fail her where their son is concerned. Her Uncle Skip is a strong supporting character and is the parental figure Bex needs: concerned and loving, he knows to give Bex her space while communicating his concerns about Clearview.
The novel has elements of YA romance in it, to be sure, but it’s not a YA romance. It’s a gritty, taut work of realistic fiction that takes readers into the mind of a teenage survivalist who finds herself questioning everything she’s understood to be true: who to trust, what to believe, and whether or not family is forever. Radical is a strong entry into YA fiction and breaks new ground in LGBTQ fiction. Add this to your LGBTQ collections and booktalk this as the breakout work it is.
Author E.M. Kokie’s website has information about all of her books, links to social media, her blog, and an events calendar.