Patricia Forde, The List, Affirm Press, 30 Jan 2018, 352pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781925584738
Letta is the Wordsmith’s apprentice in the city of Ark where John Noa rules. Ark is tightly managed, with strict rules guiding its residents. Food is cooked in the Central Kitchen and doled out carefully, as is the water. People have work roles and a language to suit. The Wordsmith supplies the List Words that people can speak, and only certain people can speak the words assigned to their specialist tasks. Every citizen is limited to 500 words, except when the Benjamin the Wordsmith and Letta speak together in the old language that existed before the Melting.
When Benjamin goes missing, and is assumed dead, Letta becomes Ark’s Wordsmith. One day, a boy darts into her house, injured from a fight with Ark’s guards. She hides him instinctively but to her horror discovers that he is a desecrator. Or is he? Marlo calls himself a Creator not a desecrator, one of many who try to install the arts back into the everyday life of Ark. The more Letta discovers about this other community, the more she realises that Ark’s rigid way of life is not utopia. Noa’s vision of an ideal subservient people means restriction in language to limit rhetoric and wasted words. His plan, however, doesn’t sit well with Letta and her new friends. The battle is on to save Ark – and its remaining language – from Noa’s dictatorship.
The List was previously published in Ireland where it was shortlisted for the Children’s Book of the Year Award. It is an interesting and original take on a dystopian world, one in which words are the endangered species and seen as the enemy. There is strong reference in the novel to the previous world’s ignorance of climate change, and the futile talk of those in power which was too long and too late. As Letta saves her city from the rabid ideas of Noa, she is also helping to bring back creativity into the insipid lives of the Arkians. A novel for imaginative, middle grade readers.
Reviewed by Pam Harvey