Fifteen-year-old Kivali has never fit in. As a girl in boys’ clothes, she is accepted by neither tribe, bullied by both. What are you? they ask. Abandoned as a baby wrapped in a T-shirt with an image of a lizard on the front, Kivali found a home with nonconformist artist Sheila. Is it true what Sheila says, that Kivali was left by a mysterious race of saurians and that she’ll one day save the world? Kivali doesn’t think so. But if it is true, why has Sheila sent her off to CropCamp, with its schedules and regs and what feels like indoctrination into a gov-controlled society Kivali isn’t sure has good intentions?
But life at CropCamp isn’t all bad. Kivali loves being outdoors and working in the fields. And for the first time, she has real friends: sweet, innocent Rasta; loyal Emmett; fierce, quiet Nona. And then there’s Sully. The feelings that explode inside Kivali whenever Sully is near—whenever they touch—are unlike anything she’s experienced, exhilarating and terrifying. But does Sully feel the same way?
Between mysterious disappearances, tough questions from camp director Ms. Mischetti, and weekly doses of kickshaw—the strange, druglike morsel that Kivali fears but has come to crave—things get more and more complicated. But Kivali has an escape: her unique ability to channel and explore the power of her animal self. She has Lizard Radio.
Pat grew up in rural Wisconsin and has lived in Michigan, California, and Minnesota. In addition to writing, she’s interested in language study (ASL, Italian, Japanese and Spanish), drawing/cartooning, travel and anything outdoors. She occasionally teaches writing on-line and in person, and is always happy for a chance to visit a middle school or high school classroom. Her #1 favorite hobby, relaxation and adventure has been the same since she was little – stories. Stories in books, music, art, dance – it’s all about the story.
Closer to 4.5 stars than 4, honestly. This book is weird as hell and I love it. The characters are fantastic (especially Kivali herself), the prose and narrative style are pitch-perfect, and the gender stuff made my little nonbinary heart ache.
I saw in some other reviews that a lot of people got hung up on the dystopian setting and not getting answers as to what Lizard Radio really is, and I can't help but feel like they're maybe missing the point of the book a bit? Which, IMO, wasn't to set up a perfectly realistic dystopian future with 1:1 analogues with real world issues, but rather to give a weird teen character a weird setting in which to grow and come to terms with the ambiguities of her identity and the power inherent in declaring herself "both/neither". But what do I know.
Basically, I saw a review (can't remember if it was on GR or elsewhere, sorry) before I read the book that called it the author's love letter to gender nonconforming teens, and it really, really is that, as well as a love letter to teens of all stripes whose identities don't conform to what the world wants them to be. I love it for that.
This wasn't my usual read but I enjoyed in because it was so different. It's a dystopia, set in a near-future world with a powerful government that forces teens to be made into conforming adults. It's here we meet Lizard, who is sent to one of these camps at a very young age, and her challenge is she doesn't conform to a gender. She IDs as female, has female pronouns, but the bulk of the story is about being in that gray area -- of being two things at once. But while it is about gender, it's about ALL things not being binary and about how ALL things are along a spectrum. You aren't good or bad. You aren't a leader or a follower. You're a little of everything. It's how you choose to pursue and identify that matters and it matters only to you as a person.
The writing here is knock-out good. Schmatz can weave killer images, for sure.
I love how weird and yet completely not weird this is. I read a review that compared it to The Summer Prince and from what I know of that book, I'd say this would be a good read alike.
Genderqueerness in this book is hugely important, and it's handled so, so well. I loved the tension with Sully, the is it a romance/is it not a romance tug back and forth.
My bookgroup read this one and I'm sad to say I missed the discussion! So now I'm forced to assess this story on my own (the humanity!).
Lizard Radio isn't a story that hands you things - readers have to pick up a lot on their own as they go (the setting, the terminology, etc) and while the physical setting for the main character (Lizard) is well described and very clear, the larger societal context/world view is probably going to leave some readers wanting at the end.
I'll admit that I had some difficulties with this, myself. And I also had plenty of moments of feeling like "I've heard this dystopian tale before" - because, frankly, most YA dystopia deals with the exact same tropes. One character (or a small band of characters) is "different/special" in a world where that is frowned upon. Such characters have to go through a process of deciding if they will submit to the confines of the world and hide who they truly are, or break through those confines and buck the system.
Which is exactly what we're dealing with in Lizard Radio. In many ways, that trope is a perfect setting for looking at gender variations. And I appreciate that while I didn't always understand how we got to the answer, I liked that the answer was an embracing of "I don't have to choose. I can be both things at once, or maybe sometimes neither" which causes my shades-of-gray-heart to swell with appreciation. Yay, Benders!
I also appreciate that the hero isn't necessarily doing something that will change the whole world (another constant in YA) but seems to be doing something for themselves and their friends. We're left with hope for them, but not a promise.
Good themes about friendship, trust, family and community, too.
Do you want to read a dystopian novel with a genderqueer protagonist who may or may not be part lizard? If this sounds like something you didn’t know you wanted, Lizard Radio is the book for you.
It’s a hard book to describe. Our protagonist, Kivali – familiarly known as Lizard, was abandoned as a baby (wrapped in a lizard t-shirt!). Lizard is adopted by Sheila, a human woman who becomes her foster mom and sends her, at the opening of the novel, to CropCamp. The novel takes off from there – CropCamp is all about teaching teenagers how to be good citizens of an oppressive totalitarian government; teens have to attend CropCamp or one of the many other strictly regimented government-run camps and, if they fail, risk being sent to Blight. At CropCamp, a camp focused on developing agricultural workers, group conformity is prized; state-sanctioned heterosexual relationships are supposed to emerge organically from the process; same-sex contact is forbidden. Lizard is thrown into this mix. See the rest of the review at The Midnight Garden.
4.5 rounded up for the thoughtful nuanced portrayal of a genderqueer protagonist. We need more of this kind of representation! As a mother of someone who deals with being nonbinary in our often transphobic society, the themes of Lizard Radio went straight to my heart.
This book is wonderfully strange, inventive, and unpredictable. While I understand reviewers' complaints about the lack of explanation for certain plot elements, I feel that just wasn't the point of this story. Yes, some of the world building felt inconsistent and spread too thin. Yes, I was left with questions at the end. BUT the story and characters were so beautifully written, compelling, original,and intriguing that it's a great book...despite the flaws.
I didn't always understand everything that was happening, but I FELT a lot. I don't mind having to think and ponder and try to put things together for myself...especially when the characters have grabbed my heart and made me care.
I have a question. Does any teen ever think that they fit in? I'm pretty sure the answer is No. In fact, I don't think many people at all, at least in the US, feel comfortable on their path and in their skin. Otherwise why so many self-help books and New Year's resolutions and Finding Happiness books?
So I get pretty tired of books that pick a Differentness and then develop a character who suffers from it (but then of course eventually learns to embrace it or possibly even recover from it, often [esp. in YA] with the help of a preternaturally & precociously wise sweetheart).
This is not one of those books.
Yes, there is a differentness. But it's not some common minor "oh I like math instead of football" or "the mean girls snark at my clothes because they're not the right labels." This girl will go to the Blight* if she doesn't shape up to fit in. And yes there is a sweetheart. But she's not a source of wisdom or comfort. Yes there's teen melodrama. Etc.
But it's so much more than just another YA book about a misfit. It's so much more than "all the feels."
It's actually, in many ways, a brilliant book.
And even though it's got some flaws, and even though I, personally, found it less than fully satisfying, I am giving it four stars and recommending it to any of you who are looking for something original, smart, challenging, and bursting brimful of resonant, memorable heart.
*The Blight, benders, samers, fiking, etc. No glossary. This is not fully SF. Not, tbh, a dystopia. This is an exploration of a teen, and a family, and a community, in a society that resembles ours more than one realizes. The dystopian setting is superficial. Don't look for answers as to what exactly is going on. Don't look for an easily film-able movie version of this.
"The problem with living in two realities is that neither one gets to be entirely real."
Interesting characters, but poor world-building, this works better as a camp story than a dystopian in a lot of ways. I'm still not sure exactly what Lizard Radio is... this book had me thinking "is it good, or is it just weird?"
Lizard Radio is a lovely, messy, very queer book with queer characters. I enjoyed it and also didn’t, if you know what I mean—I’m glad I read it, but reading it was a bit of a chore, because Pat Schmatz’s style is quite distinctive. This feels more like a novella than a novel to me, despite its length, because it doesn’t quite have the narrative completeness I desire, personally, in my novels. Nevertheless, Kivali’s journey is extremely interesting and powerful—and especially for teens who are questioning their gender, sexuality, or place in this world, I can see how this would be an important book.
Kivali is new to Crop Camp. This is a school-like program that teaches you agricultural basics, although in reality it’s an indoctrination camp for the conformist ideals of SayFree Gov. Lizard Radio takes place in a vague and hazy future in which a corporate-like government controls an unspecified region of the world. Gender expression and indeed everything else is heavily policed, and as we eventually discover, even harsher measures are being taken to prevent people from getting too emotional about everything. In short, this is definitely a dystopia—but it’s the grey, washed out dystopia of a world that doesn’t remember it surrendered its freedom rather than the brutalist blackened dystopia of a world chafing beneath the authoritarian boot.
I like the arc of Kivali’s journey and the way Schmatz doesn’t give Kivali the easy ways out. Kivali is initially resistant to Crop Camp but, beyond all expectations, actually kind of likes it. So that makes rebelling all that much harder once she realizes beyond all shadow of a doubt that she isn’t down for the fascism Ms. Mischetti peddles. Mischetti asks, “Are you a leader or a follower?” and this question pursues Kivali throughout Lizard Radio. The mystery of her origins aside, Kivali must confront her gender and sexuality (she appears to be questioning in both cases, identifying perhaps more as male but not comfortable with the idea of transitioning in the way that SayFree would like), as well as how she relates to the others at Crop Camp.
One of the most potent themes in this book is the portrayal of binaries. In this dystopia, transgender people (benders) not only can transition but must. That is, genderqueer identities are recognized but only if they can be subsumed into the accepted binary. There is no room for non-binary, agender, or non-conforming people: you can be a boy who transitions into a girl, or vice versa, but after you’ve done that you must conform to your gender role. If you don’t, you might end up in the Blight—the city that the government exiles non-conforming individuals to. I found this treatment fascinating because so often it seems like this is the limited tolerance of trans people that many so-called allies gently advocate for: yes, by all means, transition, but don’t make waves. Don’t be visibly trans. We don’t want to talk about benders.
Schmatz questions the usefulness of binaries. Kivali is special as a protagonist because her mysterious origins allow her the freedom to dream that she is something, anything, other than what she is. Kivali is an interesting protagonist because she lacks the pre-conceived notions of her own limitations that others like Sully have of themselves. This power allows her to grow and morph and rise to the occasion, even if it also makes her vulnerable to the subtle manipulations and machinations of Ms. Mischetti.
Mischetti is a wonderful antagonist, because she is truly committed to the cause. She believes that the fascism of SayFree is justified because it keeps the peace. She doesn’t always like what she has to do, but she believes in the greater good. These types of villains are often the best, for their self-righteousness creates the conditions of their own downfall even as they ruthlessly stand against the protagonist: there is no reasoning with Ms. Mischetti; she is a fanatic. (To be honest, the predictable reveal at the end—which I won’t spoil—did nothing for me. It rang very hollow and felt unnecessary, because Kivali and Mischetti were already so connected. Oh well.)
Lizard Radio feels disjointed in its narration and storytelling. I can only assume that was intentional. That being said, I still didn’t enjoy it that much, and it’s the main reason I’m not gushing over this book! It just wasn’t quite the style of narrative I wanted right now.
I am so frustrated with this book because it contains some really good ideas but executes them poorly. There's so little description of the society's context outside this camp that I don't really get the urgency for these characters to pass or fail. I get that they'll be sent to Blight, but the structure of the society is so vague, the world built around this book is shaky. If it had been built better I think the book would be much stronger for it.
What frustrated me most, though,
The end is just a jumble of ideas competing for space, with vague ideas about independence and belonging (but I don't know WHY it matters, because what the heck's going on in this world?!). I think it's a good try, but so much is left unpolished. It's frustrating because the concept it great, but needs more development.
Weird, interesting, but in some ways unsatisfying, Lizard Radio is a dystopian sci-fi novel that gives the reader little context and a lot of new vocabulary. We never really find out why this world has become so Orwellian, and that bothered me. Our protagonist, Kivali, is a "bender"--one whose sex and gender don't line up properly, as far as the authorities at SayFree, the government organization that is running the show, is concerned. Her identity as a bender, especially one who has chosen not to T (transition to male, in her case) makes her potentially non-compliant as a citizen. Just fifteen years old, she is sent to CropCamp, where she and other teens learn how to be responsible adults by farming and attending creepy church services called Cleezies. The text is most interesting when Kivali is interacting with Mischetti/Machete, the camp leader/counselor who is a sort of Nurse Ratched personality. In fact, the book gets three stars for the Kivali/Machete parts alone; they make you feel so anxious and are expertly-written. It's just difficult to bring all of the elements in the story together. I needed more exposition from the beginning. I'm still not even certain what the Lizard Radio was--something that was mentioned so often in the text that I was sure I would understand it by the end.
I have never read a book like Lizard Radio. It's uncomfortable, it's fascinating, and it's engaging. It's also confusing, haunting, and heart-breaking. But it's also oddly affirming. So basically, it isn't easy to quantify. Still, I highly suggest picking it up and giving it a try.
Some of the language/slang is a awkward to get used to, but the meanings are clear enough. It's 100% a dystopia novel, but even if that isn't your thing, it's very character driven and emotion driven. Less about the dystopia, and more about the people.
As far as gender goes, Kivali isn't male or female, and Kivali is known as a bender. It's not 100% clear how this works in the book, but if you don't match up with your assigned gender at birth, you have to transition to the opposite binary gender. There isn't any room for people who are both (benders), and it's interesting to see how that's explored in the text. I didn't find anything particularly problematic with it, however there is a flashback of violence against Kivali (as a child) for being a bender and being a "samer" (queer) isn't allowed in this society, so tw mentions for homophobia as well.
In the future, gender roles are very prescribed, but they don't have to match your biological sex. Kids are tested early and encouraged to transition if they show an affinity for the other gender. What's not allowed is being somewhere in the middle. Our protagonist is in the middle. She doesn't want to transition but she doesn't fool anyone when she tries to be feminine. Instead she considers herself a lizard and hopes the Saurian alien species will take her home with them. The story takes place at summer camp, which I also love. I think everyone should go to some kind of summer camp during their teen years. So many things to love about this book that shows us how life is never black and white.
I loved a lot about this book, but I didn't fall for it as hard as I wanted to. I also wanted more out of the ending, which felt a little anticlimactic to me.
This book is an excellent example of a scifi novel that is more about character and less about plot. If you're looking for a more introspective dystopian YA novel, then this is definitely a book worth reading, never mind how cool it is to find a YA scifi novel with a genderqueer/genderfluid protagonist!
With poetic prose and an intriguing main character, Lizard Radio sucked me right in. Not only was it wonderful to have a character who is nonbinary, IT IS UPLIFTING AND DOESN'T FALL INTO THE "rape the queer" TROPE. THANK THE GODS. It isn't preachy, it has flavorful and layered characters, and gorgeous surreal imagery. Freaking YES. YES!
It's a Dystopian Young Adult novel unlike any I have ever read before. It's a breath of fresh air after leaving a musty cellar. It felt authentic and true and was very much close to my heart. I will be reading this repeatedly in the years to come. Lizard Radio is a beautiful treat!
One small critique was that it seemed like all the characters were incapable of using the correct pronouns for Kivali. To be fair, Kivali never asserted which pronouns fit them best. So I guess it is less a critique and more me being annoyed at the characters for not trying to push past the boundaries. It could be because their society couldn't see past the binary, and possibly has a harder time using they/them/their pronouns than our society.Interestingly, Machete is the first person in the story (at least from what I could tell) who referred to Kivali as 'they'. But still, it would have been nice to see Sheila, or maybe Sully use neutral pronouns for their Lizard.
Teenaged Kivali is ordered to attend a government camp aimed at making her a compliant, group-oriented citizen. While there she struggles between what the camp tells her, what she feels, and what she was taught at home by her adopted mother and meditation mentor. I appreciated the gender bending main character--there are very few I've come across--and I loved the way she thinks of lizards and dragons as avatars, helpers, friends, and family. Her imagination is wonderful, and the way she uses is jives with what I remember from my own questioning teenagerhood.
That said, I really wanted more plot and more explanation in this book. By the end I still didn't know what vaping was, or what the Blight was like, or what was going on with the government, or how the underground operated, or what Kivali and her mom's plan is...It was a nicely in-depth and personalized look at someone coming of age, questioning their certainties, and working through new crushes and friendships, but it frustrated me as a sf book because there was so little attention to anything else like world building or resolution.
In the same vein as Feed and Westerfeld's Uglies series, Schmatz creates an all-new vocabulary for a near-future world where gender is a conversation. The main character, nicknamed Lizard, goes to a camp where she meets a variety of characters and the readers learns about this world where young adults nearing adulthood go to a camp to learn, commune, and understand in order to enter (or not enter or repeat) the adult world.
I was frustrated mostly with the setting of the story in terms of understanding the vocabulary and the meanings and layers behind the story. From an LGBT standpoint, there are many conversations about gender bending, gender identity and freedom which make it a thoughtful if not philosophical read which I can appreciate, just not my style and speed.
This book is really lovely, teetering between four and five stars for me, but at the end if the day, I think it's an important and charming story, so it gets the bump higher. It's about a genderqueer teenager with a strong connection to lizards, at a farming summer camp designed to transition teenagers into adulthood in a dystopian society. The support and love the characters have for each other throughout the book, even in the face of a society that is trying to crush them into conformity, is really touching. The way the world works isn't entirely spelled out, and the author drops you in to a world filled with acronyms and terms that aren't fully spelled out, but since the whole point of the book is about coming to terms with being both/neither instead of fitting into a binary, I'm totally ok with a bit of ambiguity.
While the story itself kinda dragged on and it took forever for the story to reach a plot, the last 60 pages or so holding most of the action, which I didn’t like, I don’t think I’ve related to a characters gender and sexuality struggle more. The tie ins between being nonbinary and gay, while struggling to find yourself as a person was amazing and so relatable. It was more of a coming of age story in a scifi trench coat. The world building was extremely good, though it could be confusing at times due to new in universe words being introduced and hard to pick up on.
I'll talk more about this book in my July wrap-up video, but this was almost certainly a case of "it's not you, it's me." The genre is not my favourite (sci-fi/dystopian) and as such, I found myself annoyed at some of the language (I cannot take phrases like “zoom zoom” seriously), the plot itself didn't appeal, etc. However, I found the exploration of gender, the rigidity of the world and need for conformity, and the diversity in general to be awesome and I know this book would be so important to the right audience. So, not for me, but I'm glad I read it.
I really, really wanted to like this book more than I actually did... the problem was that there were so many made-up words and names and events that I never had the chance to feel a part of Lizard's world.
An interesting read, but ultimately very difficult to follow.
What a weird little book. This book explores gender in such a unique way. If you are interested in a genderqueer mc who might be an alien, a dystopian summer camp, or amazingly written friendships, read this! This book surprised me. I've never read anything like it.
I really enjoyed the characters, idea, and writing in this book, but I felt the weird choices of space-age slang in the book made it hard to understand at times, especially because there was little explanation as to what they meant.
Fifteen-year-old Kivali is a young girl who has never fit in, having been treated as an outcast most of her life for being a bender (someone who doesn't neatly fit into either the male or female gender binary). She's survived her loneliness and fear of being sent to Blight by escaping into her mind and listening to "lizard radio," an internal broadcast that soothes her and makes her feel less alone. When she's sent to CropCamp in order to learn how to take her place in community, she discovers friendships and love beyond what she's known inside her own head.
Schmatz has created an interesting world in Lizard Radio, a world that can seem utopian if your considering it from the point of view of those who fit within the boundaries of its parameters, with it's emphasis on community. However, for those who don't fit in, benders, samers, and other outcasts, who are sent to live in Blight, the world would feel more dystopian. (Interestingly, being transgender is acceptable within this world, provided they fit neatly within either the female or male binary.) People can also vape in this world, a form of vanishing entirely, which could also be seen as good or bad depending on one's perspective.
I wouldn't really call this world realistic, but I don't expect that it's intended to be, at least not in the sense of being a world that could really exist. Rather, I think it's more designed as a way to examine the theme of ambiguity.
Nevertheless, the characters throughout the book are believable in how they think about and act in the world, and their relationships to each other provide a means of connecting to a story. I really enjoyed reading this.
This is an interesting sci-fi story that borders on realism. Although it felt a little slow at times, I think it’s the kind of story you could come back to many times and understand more each time. And while I wasn’t sure I agreed with everything this story seemed to be saying about gender and sexuality, it was really interesting to read a sci-fi story that dealt with those topics so heavily.
Lizard Radio is a dystopian YA novel (with a dash of metaphysics) that had me second-guessing myself pretty much to the end. I loved the open-ended way it explored themes of gender identity, community, and politics. Schmatz includes social commentary delivered in a light hand, with plenty of room to think more deeply.
This world accepts the reality of a gender spectrum, but ultimately it still thinks in very binary terms. (Hey! Just like in our world!) So transition is heavily “encouraged” (cough cough) by the government. Kivali is genderfluid, so rather than a stereotypical transition story, this is more about being true to yourself, accepting yourself, and realizing that we all have something to contribute to our community.
This brings up something so important, even among those who consider themselves progressive/liberal: How do we treat trans people who choose not to transition? Or those who don’t present female/male “enough,” who don’t present the way we think they “should”? These are deep, intricate themes that are naturally present in Lizard Radio (no preaching from the author needed) because you can’t accept the gender spectrum without these questions coming forth, demanding to be addressed.
Many times in dystopian novels the bad guy is pretty clear. Here? Not so much. I didn’t know what to think about one character in particular, almost to the very end. It was disturbing and absolutely delightful! The ending had a The Giver kind of feel, which is fine, but I wanted more. I want a sequel that explores an area outside the camp.
Lizard Radio was a great read, and I am so happy Schmatz has a backlist for me to devour!
Author Pat Schmatz writes vividly the experiences of young adults, whether they are in a contemporary or dystopian future setting. The use of language in Lizard Radio evokes a society evolved from our own, familiar yet fascinatingly strange, and is evidence of a deeper world building than talking about technology, etc. The focus here is on gender, class, and all the good stuff that's at the heart of provocative speculative fiction. Lizard Radio reads like poetry and leaves a mark just as strongly.
The narrator for the audio book did an excellent job performing this novel and brought to life all the characters with dignity, humor, and verve.