This seems to be leading up to an overall big picture story, which means sequels. Yay. (Make note I also groaned.) It was a simple, middle grade read about a dystopia pulling from Biblical and Bradburyan (that’s totally a word now…) inspiration, and I did love the concept of a wordsmith collecting and protecting words.
by Patricia Forde
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, August 2017
Children’s science fiction, dystopian
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley
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.
The Word According to Noa
I think at some point people compared this book to a children’s version of 1984 and The Giver. Okay, it sort of is, and I sort of see it. I thought the better analogy might have been Fahrenheit 451 meets The Bible and they both walk into a bar called 1984. Though for children.
In the end, the comparisons are all really just trying to say that the world is screwed up, and instead of making it better, some jerk at the top makes things much worse, and the poor people at the bottom have to make do or rise up.
Which is really how the book starts. As readers, we are introduced to Letta, an apprentice wordsmith in Ark. As wordsmiths, Benjamin and Letta are tasked locating and storing words from the outside world. Their main directive, however, is to provide words to the people of Ark, though provision is allowed to only a sanction of 500 words. List-speak is the appropriate form of conversation between people, and with 500 meager words, you can only imagine how that is going to turn out. I mean, abstract ideas don’t even come into play here. I don’t think I could survive this world…
Freedom. Music. Feelings. Were they things they could live without?
So yeah, how does Letta, a wordsmith–or better yet, anyone–survive without words, with only just a List?
The book itself is a quick read and follows a story after the events of an ecological disaster. There’s a lot of worldbuilding involved, with inspiration being pulled from the Bible of all places. The Melting–which sounds like the worst-case scenario of global warming–has caused the world to overflood, destroying buildings and cities like nobody’s business. Amidst this disaster comes John Noa, who builds a city called Ark (like the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark, if you didn’t pick up on it already), and saves many inhabitants from the apocalyptic disaster. He does, however, impose unreasonable rules for living in the area. And, throughout the story, it is clear how much he hates words (even though he likes speaking them, the hypocrite).
It’s easy to see where this is going, and as a children’s book, you expect it to go in the direction it does. Letta is a girl who grows up in the shadow of Ark, and does not question John Noa’s rules until her mentor goes missing. From there, she meet cutes a rebel artist/musician/Desecrator boy (which is kind of adorable, heh) and nurses him to a point where he owes a great debt to her. Then she meets a couple other hippie Desecrators and suddenly she is finding that the world is so much more than the safety and wordlessness of Ark.
She had been in awe of John Noa before, looked up to him as the man who had saved the planet. She had grown up on stories of his great valor, his clever thinking, his vision. Now she knew that none of that was real. John Noa was a bully. That thought made her brave. He might be a very clever bully, but he was still a bully.
So she rebels, too.
From what I read, the book seems to gear itself to a sequel, though one can read this as a standalone if you’re okay with how things are resolved (which, come to think of it, I’m not. Not really). There’s still the matter of Letta’s parentage as well as the question of what happens to Ark. There’s still a lot of words to be found and collected and shared. There’s still a lot of obnoxious gavvers that need boots up their rear ends–hem hem. And then of course there’s also the matter of Marlo. But I suppose that’s another story for another day.
3.5 out of 5 cookies! It was a good, fun read, and definitely a welcome one amidst my pile of YA literature, haha.