Schmatz, Pat. 2015. Lizard Radio. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
Kivali Kerwin just turned 15 and her foster mother Sheila has dropped her off at CropCamp for indoctrination into the regulated behaviors and emotions required by the government. Despite being upset about being forced into CropCamp two years early, Kivali soon makes friends and enjoys the physical work and connection with the land that comes with farm work.
Kivali is not like the other kids. When she was young, gender testing confirmed that she was somewhere between boy and girl, and she was urged to make a decision one way or the other. Although she would have preferred to remain as she was, she reluctantly chose “girl” in order to avoid surgery. But her gender training was arduous, and she still grits her teeth as she puts a ribbon in her long hair.
When Kivali feels overwhelmed with the obligations of human interaction, she retreats inside herself to listen to Lizard Radio, connecting with the natural world and her animal self. Abandoned on Sheila’s doorstep as a baby, Kivali has no idea where she came from, and seized upon Sheila’s whimsical suggestion that she is from a race of extraterrestrial lizards.
At CropCamp, her friends readily accept her for who she really is and call her Lizard. She meets other outcasts and together they uncover unsettling realities about CropCamp and their government, as well as Kivali’s identity and background.
I found Lizard Radio thought-provoking and enjoyed it so much I had trouble putting it down. Schmatz has created a dystopian world that is similar to ours in many ways, but with “some genetic twists and decisional turns” (author comment). The government regulations, rigid gender rules, and consequences for not conforming are frightening but perfectly plausible. In addition, the characters are realistic and multifaceted.
Lizard Radio received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. I recommend it for any young adult who doesn’t conform to expectations, gendered and otherwise.
Note: This society does not have a gender neutral pronoun in use. Kivali does not indicate a pronoun preference, so I’m using she/her because this is the pronoun used in the book.