Book Review – The List

Book: The List (aka: The Wordsmith) – Author: Patricia Forde

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia

Description from Goodreads:

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

My Review:

**I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

During my years as an English major back in college, I had myself convinced that I didn’t like dystopian novels. I hated Brazil, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, 1984, Fahrenheit 451…basically all of the classic dystopians that I was being assigned. It wasn’t until I forced myself to read The Hunger Games a few years ago that I realized I didn’t necessarily hate the entire genre, just the books that had been forced on me at school.

So I started trying other young adult dystopians. It turns out that these books, while still in-depth and thoughtful, often turn out to be much more action packed and tend to keep me on the edge of my seat. Such is the case with The List.

In The List, we are presented with a city called “Ark”, which is the only (known) livable area left on the planet after “The Melting”. (Basically climate change. That’s not really a spoiler, since it’s pretty self evident in the name, and they end up explaining pieces of it early enough in the book that it becomes fairly obvious.) In Ark, there is a set List of words that the people are allowed to use, which is maintained by The Wordsmith. This is because the Leader of Ark believes that words are the main reason that people were able to destroy the planet.

This is a fascinating concept, that the world could be destroyed by language. Politicians who use language to dissuade the public’s fears and tell them that they don’t need to worry about global warming–even as the water starts taking over cities, Murderers who use language to lure in new victims, Conspiracy Theorists who spend so much time trying to convince us about things that aren’t real that we end up distracted from the things that are. What would the world be like if we didn’t have the language that let them accomplish these things?

The author uses Letta, our protagonist, to really delve into this idea. Letta grew up in Ark, completely believing in the idea that the Leader was trying to protect them, even as she strove to preserve the words that were being lost. Then she meets up with Marlo, an outsider from a group of people called “Destroyers”: artists, musicians, poets…those who want to see the beauty mankind can create brought back. Inevitably, Letta’s ideas of what is right begin to shift. Could it be that language itself isn’t the problem, but how you wield it?

There is also a ton of action. There is the usual plot where the protagonist has to save the world, with the help of her new found friends. I say “usual” because it’s a common theme in Young Adult dystopians, but the author here does a very good job making the plot believable and in keeping with the world she’s created. I won’t spoil the book by going into too much detail about it, but it’s a good mesh of detailed, actually dangerous, and quick-paced enough to keep the readers engaged.

Overall, I thought this was a very good book. I was immersed in it enough to finish it in two sittings. It would be a good introduction into the dystopian genre for younger readers. It is also a really interesting concept and presents an interesting thought experiment on how language can change the world.

 

Similar Books:

Divergent – Veronica Roth

The Giver – Lois Lowery

 

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