Lark and Kasim Start a Revolution is a unique YA novel. In part because there aren’t many Black, trans and queer characters in YA, and romances between enby characters is relatively rare (as the book points out) – especially compared to the ocean of white, cis, straight romance novel leads. In another way, the spectral, imaginary presence of Birdie, a human-bird hybrid from the future (who’s the main protagonist in Lark’s novel), interjects at various points in the story, speaking only to Lark, cutting into an otherwise very grounded-in-reality story. Birdie’s comments and asides are used sparingly but each one adds something extra, be it humour, an astute observation, or a challenge to Lark. The mysterious Birdie is one of the most interesting parts of the novel.
The central plot of Lark and Kasim Start a Revolution revolves around fractured friends, Lark and Kasim. They’ve grown apart in a way that seems to be confusing, surprising and unintentional to the both of them, but they don’t talk about it. Yet, they can’t escape one another’s orbit. They have writing classes together, and Kasim stays at Lark’s house when his brother is away for work. They seem to be at a crossroads of who they were, as best friends, and who they might become, as they head from teenagehood into adulthood.
When Kasim accidentally posts a thread to Lark’s Twitter about being in love with a friend and not knowing if it’s reciprocated, Lark takes the credit. They do it to protect Kasim and for their benefit as the thread goes viral and starts to bring them extra attention. But hiding the truth only creates more fear, and the longer it goes on, the more untenable the situation becomes and the more it puts Lark in conflict with Kasim, as well as Kasim’s friends and their classmates.
The viral thread becomes the catalyst for Lark to look inwardly. They are a person who tries hard to do no harm, and yet don’t protect themself or give themself the space to learn and grow. As they are attacked online and verbally in class, they have to navigate wanting to defend themselves, linger in the feelings of shame, and finding a way through.
While all this plays out, Lark is still working on their dream of writing a novel, Birdie Takes Flight, about a not-too-distant future where humanity has reached an ethical, humanitarian peak and united with love for all. They want to get published and creating an online presence is part of how they plan to get there. A writer writing a book about a writer writing a book creates a kind of self-reflective kaleidoscope, particularly if you’re an aspiring writer working on your own book. Lark’s writing classes at their local college includes discussions that range from choosing a theme, to considering the message of your story, to deciding if you should be writing what others like to read or not. Every piece of advice is a debate, both internally for Lark, and among the students. And as a result, as a reader, you call into question everything you feel about what you are reading and why.
There is a YA romance element to Lark and Kasim Start a Revolution. Lark and Kasim, as pointed out by those close to them, have an attraction for one another that they have yet to act on – and Lark has yet to fully admit to themself. Having the suggestion so openly placed early on does make the long road to them finally talking about it drag on somewhat. There are also other relationships, both for Kasim and Lark, that are explored, showing the ways an open and honest couple can be with each other, and how toxic relationships can fester in those who don’t feel they deserve better.
Lark and Kasim Start a Revolution is an interesting YA novel. It has something of Dawson’s Creek to it, or at least feels similar because these are young people with an adept understanding of the world, from intersectional identity to racism to love languages. They can almost feel smarter than they should be, except that modern teenagers, those who have the wide world at their fingertips, really do have a complex understanding of the world and themselves.
This novel feels like a reflection of the young people of today and where they are at, rather than a fantasy of who they want to be. After all, they can be as oblivious and emotional and full of self-doubt as every other generation of teens. But they also have the potential to show us who we could be if freed from the ideas and ideals we’ve gotten used to.
Lark and Kasim Start A Revolution is published by Faber & Faber on 27 September 2022