Why I Really Like Malinda Lo’s Adaptation and Inheritance

A natural disaster grounds planes and causes chaos all over North America. Stranded in Arizona after a high-school debate tournament, Reese Holloway and her debate partner—and longtime crush—David Li try to drive home. But they’re caught in an accident. They wake up a month later on a military base, with no memories of the intervening time, and once she gets home, the only thing Reese is really sure of is that she’s different now.

The story of Adaptation (2012) and Inheritance (2013), Malinda Lo’s excellent Young Adult science fiction duology from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, is Reese’s story as she tries to figure out what’s changed, who she is now, and—later—how to live with it is a world where her difference puts her at risk from all the parties who want to destroy, control, or use her.

Contains spoilers.

The most interesting thing (well, okay, one of the most interesting things) about these books is the trick Lo plays with metaphor. The science fictional presence hanging (literally, in the final pages of Adaptation and the opening section of Inheritance) over the text is a vital part of the story, yes; but it is also through the story’s science fictional objects that Lo focuses our attention as readers on questions of identity, self-definition, exclusion and belonging: on navigating boundaries.

And Lo’s main characters have to navigate an awful lot of boundaries; between human and alien, childhood and adulthood, knowledge and ignorance, acceptance and fear—their own, and others. Reese, from whose point of view the novels are told, has even more complications to navigate: her romantic relationships—one with the girl Amber Gray, who turns out to be hiding a great deal from Reese; and one with David Li, which despite the fact they can read each others’ minds is fraught with a great deal of awkwardness—and her eventual need to reconcile her romantic love for two people mirrors her need, and David Li’s, to reconcile their positions as human/alien hybrids, caught between two different worlds.

Caught between two different worlds is a recurring thematic motif in this duology. All of the major characters in some way embody contacts and crossings between cultures: Amber Gray, alien girl raised in a human world, trying to negotiate a path between different loyalties; David Li, who’s Chinese-American and has to come to terms with the same alien adaptations as Reese; Reese, negotiating her burgeoning sexuality at the same time as she has to deal with the abilities the alien adaptations bestowed on her.

It turns out to be a story about finding who you are when the whole world has different ideas of where you belong.

It will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my opinions that the fact that Reese is a queer character is something that delights me. She’s not the only queer character in the duology, but her queerness (and the complications it adds to her life) is front and centre.

But that’s far from the only reason I really enjoy these novels: there’re government conspiracies and UFOs and mysteries and violence and hijinks and compassion, and figuring things out, and Terrible Revelations.

They’re very entertaining books, and if for some reason you haven’t tried them yet?

Well, now is always a good time to start.

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. Her blog. Her Twitter.


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