It’s rare to find a YA book as thoughtful as this. Tackling complex themes like climate change, humanity and, above all, the affect that language can have on us, and how it can shape our lives, this book blends them all into a classic story about a girl trying to find her feet in a changing and challenging society.
As an English Literature graduate, I’m a bit of a sucker for anything literary, and this book is definitely that. As a sci-fi, it’s set in a future where the seas have melted (worst case scenario for climate change) and swamped half the planet; most people are dead, and as far as we know the only survivors live in and around the city of Ark. Living under the city’s enigmatic saviour John Noa, Letta works as a wordsmith: a person who helps to control the number of words in general circulation, which can be spoken by the general public. It’s illegal to speak English; people have to speak List. And the List is getting ever shorter.
I really liked the character of Letta: she’s gutsy, pragmatic, and determined to do the right thing in her search for the truth- almost past the point of danger, as she infiltrates Noa’s house time and again, and puts herself in the way of the Gavvers: the people in charge of enforcing the List, and order in the city of Ark. Add to that the Desecrators, who live outside Ark and encourage the creativity and freedom of speech that Ark has banned- and Marlo, the young man who needs Letta’s help and ends up helping her- and you end up with a heady stew. To be honest, Marlo didn’t feel like a good match for Letta; he was a bit beige for my liking. Their romance isn’t front and centre, and I did feel that any hints of it felt rather forced; the focus was definitely on the drama unfolding in Ark.
Far more interesting is the focus of the plot: language, and how it has the power to change us. The idea of controlling language itself is original, and fascinating; the way in which it’s done and how it’s used to control the populace even more so. The way in which the stilted atmosphere of Ark is contrasted with the comparatively free, creative and musical Desecrators drives home how important it is to have the words to express yourself. If you don’t have the words to express ‘hope’, how can you hope? In a post-apocalyptic world, meanings are changed: people hunt for relics of the past, and statues become Goddesses. Anything feels possible- and the man at the centre of the action, John Noa, remains a shady figure at the centre of the plot, his motives and plan unclear until the very end.
Forde lets the plot unfold at a steady pace, letting the twists and turns come one after the other: there’s never a dull moment, and as the tension gradually builds up you end up flicking through the pages faster and faster. Packed with twists and turns, as well as fascinating comments on the nature of society and language, The List is a thoughtful, entertaining read.
Book cover taken from Goodreads.