I’m going to guess that you like words a lot. Know how I know? You’re on HERE. 🙂 I, too, like words quite a bit, which is why I was super intrigued by the concept of Forde’s novel The List in which members of a future post-apocolyptic society are not allowed to use words that aren’t on “the list.” It is a young adult novel, and the description states it is a mix between Fahrenheit 451 and The Giver. Hook, line, and sinker… I needed to read it.
For more on this book review, read on…
At the beginning of the book, Letta (protagonist) is asked to whittle the list down even further to five-hundred words. As such, most dialogue in the book comes off like an ESL speaker, for example: “You help? I help” instead of “Do you need help? I can help you.” I found this a bit odd, but Forde’s futuristic exploration of government word restriction was interesting, so interesting that I kept on. However, after reading, I found the book to be lacking in characterization and original plot.
Harkening elements of The Giver (specific job titles like Healers and Wordsmith) and The Hunger Games (rations, authoritarian govt., etc.), those who love the dystopian genre will enjoy this book; however, I would not recommend it to readers in junior high, but rather those in 5th or 6th grade. The vocabulary and reading level were somewhat low, albeit still engaging enough for late elementary readers.
The plot itself felt too contrived and recycled from the aforementioned texts. Some areas weren’t fleshed out enough either. For example, in chapter 4, Marlo—an injured boy on the run that Letta takes in—tells her about a dream he had:
“I dreamed I was a fox. I was living in the forest and being hunted by dogs.”
“Stop,” Letta said, unable to listen anymore.
This interaction was confusing to me as a reader, considering he just started to tell her the dream, and she was suddenly “unable to listen anymore,” as if she’d been hearing him drone on for several sentences (but it was only the two). Her reasoning was that the son of the neighboring healer, Daniel, had recently been banished for stealing food; she was distraught over his punishment. As a reader, this was also confusing as she continued to be upset about Daniel when he wasn’t a prominent character in the plot or even in her mental musings. The reflections on Daniel are clearly meant to be an attempt to characterize Letta’s empathy skills and likely foreshadow future decisions against the “establishment,” but it seems forced from these early instances.
Overall, an impressive and interesting book premise, but the actual carry out of the plot felt lacking. I would recommend this book to late elementary readers for enjoyment, but not as a class set to use for common core or standards based learning like characterization, higher vocabulary, or plot development.
I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.