I so wanted to love The List but what starts off as an intriguing premise, falls short when it becomes predictable.
In Ark you can only speak from The List: five hundred words which are pre-selected and handed out in school. All other words are forbidden, with the most extreme punishment of banishment. It is the Wordsmith’s duty to record the words, distribute them, and collect ‘lost’ words. Letta has been training to be a Wordsmith since some of her earliest memories and her dream finally becomes true, when her Master mysteriously dies. But this is just the beginning of her questions, and his ‘death’ sets her on a path that will rock not only the foundation of her world views, but also the entire city of Ark.
So the premise of only five hundred words in the society was the main reason I decided to pick this book up (the book had more variety than that). That and I cannot say no to dystopias. It’s an actual problem. What I ended up reading was an incredibly vivid world, better than most YA fiction I have been reading lately, and an interesting nugget of thought about language in general. Each chapter is introduced with a word and a definition. Often this definition is simple and incomplete. It merely highlights the adaptability of language and the way the very definitions of words change. We, as language users, have the power to change the very fabric of how we shape our existence. And that, to me, is just so incredibly unique and terrifying.
This very thought experiment kept me hanging on, until the very end of the book. As a former English lit major, the idea of limiting our capability for expression offends my very senses. I have been in the trenches to defend culture since I realized I had a voice. Language is so important to shaping our understanding of the world. And to limit it to only 500 words reminded me so much of Newspeak and 1984. Additionally, I enjoyed the history of the list plot line and the rhetoric of its leaders.
This world building that results is a mixture of 1984 and The Giver. Except without the novelty. What held me back from enjoying this book, despite its premise, was the predictability. It was pretty clear from the start that this Ark would be quite similar to the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark. And I could have overlooked that, but the entire plot is similarly predictable, like something you’ve seen before and cannot place. You remember where it’s going, but not where you saw it. That’s what I experienced here. It was as if I saw a collage of snapshots of all the major dystopias I have recently read and what happened was this seemingly familiar plot arc.
Combined with this déjà vu feeling was the lack of personality in the characters. Don’t get me wrong, Letta is extremely compelling. But she is, like so many heroines within these dystopias; headstrong, willing to fight the system for good, and honorably motivated. Besides her quest, and the various pieces of the puzzle that the side characters and her own history played, there was a lack of personality within her.
This is a middle of the road read for me. It had the potential to be so much better and I am actually more interested in what happens after this book. In this sequel I would hope to see more character development and originality in plot to deliver on these wonderful promises and vivid world.
You can pick this up at Amazon(US), any local indie, and Goodreads.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
What were your thoughts on the Giver?
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4 thoughts on “Review: The List by Patricia Forde”
I have never heard of this book before, I am unsure whether this also makes me want to read. I also studied Literature at school, given that the analyser in me would definitely want to see how this story plays out and the how the author chose to write this story. Only allowed to use 500 words? Now that is not something I have heard before, I will keep this in my radar. Great review!
Aneesa @ A Crave For Books
Yeah, the book has more than that, but their society’s speech is only defined by it. If that’s your angle you should check it out sometime! It’s an interesting premise 😀
The premise of this book also reminds me a bit of The Giver.
I could never function with so little words. I have been collecting new words since I first learned how to use a dictionary (well, before that, but you know what I mean). However, I do know some people for whom the 500 limit would be more than enough – they use curse words, and one curse word in particular, in place of every noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, conjunction they can. Haha.
It totally is! So much like The Giver!! If you liked it, you might like this one too.
That’s a great point that I never thought of lol