Sunday, January 24, 2016

Schmatz, Pat. Lizard Radio.

Schmatz, Pat.  Lizard Radio.  Candlewick Press  2015  280p.  $16.99  ISBN 978-0-7636-7635-3  jr/sr  Science fiction  VG-BN     

Kivali Sauria Kerwin (aka “Lizard”) is sent to camp at a very young age because she is a “bender,” and does not conform to any gender.  In fact, Kivali struggles not only with gender identity, but also with a conviction that she is not human, but saurian (hence her nickname).  The story explores the fact that not all things are binary and how all things are part of a spectrum.  Each person shares a connection to everything.  In the end, choices about identity and sex should matter only to the individual making the choices.

Young adult readers will find that gender
queerness is handled with deft sensitivity.  Kivali ultimately comes to consider gender and sex as two separate things.  Gender identity is defined as one's internal sense of being a woman, man, both, or neither, while sex refers to an individual's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to others.

As an infant, Kivali was wrapped in a t-shirt with a lizard print on it
and abandoned.  She is rescued and fostered by Sheila and Korm, two single women living on the fringes of society.  It is unclear whether Kivali is an “otherkin by congenital condition or for other reasons.  As an otherkin, Kivali identifies as partially komodo dragon in spirit if not in body.  After a passionate encounter with Sully, a girl Kivali meets at camp and comes to love, Kivali “sheds” her lizard “skin” and for a while becomes a vulnerable, emotional human being.  Kivali clings to a small komodo dragon talisman to ground her secret “saurian” identity, indulging in magical thinking and supernatural beliefs through “lizard radio,” using meditation to connect with a lizard state of being.

Camp is conducted against an idyllic pastoral backdrop.
 Campers learn to care for crops, planting seeds, nurturing the seedlings, and weeding out the weak plants so the strong ones thrive.  Not everything at camp is as peaceful as it appears on the surface.  For example, Kivali observes one young man as he “vapes,” a disturbing event where the young man literally disappears before her shocked gaze.  It is unclear whether he has committed suicide and is dead, or if he still exists, but as “waves” rather than “particles.”  The camp director is there but lies to campers about the young man’s fate.  Kivali soon learns that the director is hiding other secrets, too.  It becomes clear that those young people who are followers are being drugged into compliance, while leaders have more autonomy and can choose whether to take the government-endorsed medication called “kickshaw.”

The camp administrator identifies Kivali and her campmates as natural leaders, despite the cohort’s disregard for rules and authority.
 Kivali, especially, has been singled out as a change agent with the potential to affect all of society. When the friends refuse to comply with the director’s scheme to control them, they are threatened with expulsion, not just from camp, but from society. Surviving with no resources, skills, or connections in the “Blight” is difficult for adults scraping out a marginal existence.  What will happen to the teens if they are tossed into that mix to fend for themselves?  The open ending in this novel suggests that a sequel is sure to follow.    

Summary: In a near-future world, Kivali struggles with gender identity in this coming-of-age story.   Lizard Radio is set in a near-future world, controlled by a totalitarian government that expects teens to attend camps that provide young people with a place to make the transition to the norms it sets for conforming adults.                      

Gender identity-Fiction, Fantasy-Fiction              --Hilary Welliver

No comments: