THE LIST, by Patricia Forde, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 1, 2017, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 10-14)
Imagine a world where when you speak, you only have a few hundred words to choose from. Welcome to Ark where everyone must speak List, a language made up of only 500 words.
People used to have thousands of words, but then the Melting came. Noa was one of the few who foretold of the destructive force, and he was prepared when the Melting came. After the Melting, Noa and his followers return to a more simplified lifestyle. Technology is all but abandoned. Believing that the arts and language were among the vices that led to the current situating, Noa eliminated music, dance and art from society, and he limits the amount of words, making them utilitarian in use only.
As apprentice to the Wordsmith, 12-year-old Letta is one of the lucky few who is able to speak more than List. Her master is in charge of collecting and cataloging words for a time when they might be used again — at least that’s what Noa said initially.
After her master disappears, Noa makes Letta the new Wordsmith and suggests she cut even more words from the list. Then she meets a stranger who speaks as if List was never invented. Soon, Letta is questioning everything she’s ever known to be true, and she’s faced with a choice — allow language to disappear completely or embrace it as her ancestors once did.
If you are a reader — which you probably are — or a writer — most likely — The List will hit a nerve. The thought of not having words to express myself gives me a crawling, nails-on-the-chalkboard feeling that I can’t get rid of. As a copy editor, reporter, writer and reviewer, I’ve spent most of my adult life surrounded by words. Losing language would be like cutting off an extremity.
Patricia Forde has crafted a world that is terrifyingly realistic. There’s nothing here that screams, “this is just imaginary,” and that is why The List works so well. Forde’s world and character building are spot-on. Letta is complex and likeable. She faces hard decisions and doesn’t come by them easily. There were a few places where the pacing felt a little off, but otherwise, The List is a well-crafted dystopian novel that should appeal to middle-graders, young adults and adults alike.
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