“Language is what makes man ungovernable.”
Thanks to Netgalley and Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for providing me with a digital galley of this book – all opinions are my own.
As a lover of both YA and dystopian novels, I was very excited to read The List. I’m always interested to see how different authors portray their view of the world after a major disaster. I think we as a society have an obsession with end of the world scenarios, and I am particularly interested in the aftermath of those events, rather than what leads up to them. In The List, Patricia Forde explores a society trying to rebuild in the aftermath of a colossal natural disaster. This book is a great addition to the growing narrative of dystopian YA/middle grade novels.
Letta lives in Ark, a city that has been re-built after a natural disaster wiped out much of society many years ago. Some of the older citizens remember the way the world used to be, but many of them have been born and raised in Ark. To ensure the survival of humans, Ark citizens are only allowed to speak List, a language consisting of 500 approved words. Except for the Wordsmith, Benjamin, who is entrusted with the task of documenting and saving words beyond the list, and Letta, who is his apprentice. When Benjamin disappears and Letta becomes the Wordsmith, she starts to discover things about Ark and its leader that make her wonder if this society is actually the utopia it is meant to be. She must decide which is more dangerous: language or the lack of it.
I loved this book! The description immediately brought to mind The Giver, and I’ve since seen it compared to that book several times. The premise is the same: a homogenous culture with a select person who knows the truth. As in any dystopian novel, the government wields extreme power to control and establish a new world. The List uses words and language as that power. It very much reminded me of parenting. We teach our children certain words and try to keep them from others. It is a form of ultimate control. Along the way, outside influences introduce those words whether we like it or not. There are always rebels out there. I will say that the device used at the end of the novel to exert total control is a little convenient, but it didn’t detract from the overall story.
“The here and now is only the smallest part of who we are. Each of us is all that we have been, all our stories, all that we could be.”
Words are so basic that it is easy for us to take them for granted. We teach our kids to describe feelings, emotions, surroundings. We give names to the most subtle of emotions. What would it be like if we were forbidden from using those words? Would it dull the senses, or sharpen frustration? Forde shows us what might happen if language became a contaminant, rather than something to be celebrated. This novel is so relevant today, and I think it’s a great way to introduce some important ideas to kids, in an incredibly entertaining way!
This is classified as a middle grade novel, but I think it fits pretty neatly into the YA category. It’s certainly meant for at least ages 10 and up, and while it’s not as complex as some other dystopian YA novels such as The Hunger Games, I do think kids all the way through high school would really enjoy this. The storyline of purposefully eliminating language is also a great way to introduce some thoughtful discussions with older kids.
“Music does not have a race or a disposition! Every instrument has a voice that contributes. Music is a universal language. A universal religion of sorts. Certainly it’s my religion. Music surpasses all distinctions between people.”
Every once in awhile a book comes along and surprises me by just how much it makes me feel. All books make me feel something, good or bad, but sometimes one is so special that it presses on my heart. Do you know what I mean? That almost physical pressure that is a combination of excitement and emotion and wanting to shout your love for the book from the rooftops. (I didn’t have a heart attack, I promise.) Echo is the kind of book that I want to force everyone I know to read, but that I’m afraid to recommend in case someone doesn’t love it. In which case I guess I’d be down a friend. (Just kidding. Sort of.) This book absolutely moved me and I cannot recommend it enough.
Echo braids together the stories of three children living during the World War II era. Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California. Through different circumstances, each child comes into possession of an enchanted harmonica. Stay with me here. That is the lone element of magical realism in the story, and Pam Munoz Ryan weaves it in perfectly. This is a WWII novel, but different from others that I’ve read. Instead of focusing on the war itself, the story is centered around people who have personal struggles in addition to the war (rescuing a father, finding a family, waiting for a brother to return), and these particular kids are trying to find a way to keep music in their lives at a time when music and instruments were seen as unimportant. In Germany, only Hitler-approved composers were allowed. In America, all available money was thrown at the war effort, and music was a more of a hobby for wealthy families or the lucky ones who had instruments pre-war. Music plays a huge role in Echo, and the characters’ lives are entwined using music as well.
Echo is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and uplifting book all at once. I was in tears by the end, and was not ready to let any of the characters go. While this is stellar middle grade fiction, I don’t see how adults wouldn’t love it too, even if you don’t usually read in this category. I do think it would be better for around age 10 and up. A cursory knowledge of WWII is necessary to understand parts of the book. I listened to this on audio, and I wasn’t comfortable listening to it around my 6- and 8-year-olds because there were some difficult topics (namely Hitler) that would have been upsetting to them, and they aren’t really able to comprehend an explanation for that yet.
Echo is truly a masterpiece, and Pam Munoz Ryan is a brilliant writer. This book is one of my favorites this year, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come. Please let me know if you’ve read it so we can talk about it!
*I listened to this as an audiobook, and let me just say that the narration is the best I’ve ever heard. I mean, the BEST. Audiobooks are a recent addition to my reading life, and I loved the audio for Echo so much that I bought it (Somehow it’s only $3.95 on Audible!) and I do intend to listen to it again. There are several narrators, and the production is amazing. The audio version incorporates beautiful musical elements and performances that add another layer that only reading the book cannot. I truly think, in this case, listening to the book and then reading it would add so much to the experience of the story. Just click on the Audiobook version in Amazon and download it directly to your Audible app, or get it through your library on Overdrive!
Echo on Audible
“I understand now that history only moves forward in a straight line when we learn from it. Otherwise it loops past the same mistakes over and over again.”
Dreamland Burning is marketed as YA, but if I hadn’t known that I would have assumed it was historical fiction for adults. It is a re-telling of the Tulsa race riots of 1921 (an event I’m ashamed to say I didn’t really know about), but at its heart it is a story about two teenagers finding out who they really are, and how they try to make sense of injustice in the world.
The story is told in alternating chapters between present-day 17-year-old Rowan Chase and 17-year-old Will Tillman in 1921. When Rowan discovers a skeleton under the floorboards of her family’s guest house, she takes matters into her own hands to find out who the skeleton was and how he or she died. What she discovers makes her question who she is and how far race relations have really come in the last hundred years. Will, a teenager in racially-divided Tulsa in 1921, finds himself in the middle of a race war that he doesn’t necessarily want to be in. He must decide not only how to react to a contentious situation, but how his actions will influence the kind of person he is now and in the future.
I loved this book. Couldn’t put it down, brought it with me everywhere until I finished it, loved it. Jennifer Latham researched the race riots so well and crafted a compelling story around them that I think anyone would consider a page-turner. The main characters were well-written and I felt like I really knew them. The story itself questioned race relations of the past and present, and made important observations about how far we really haven’t come without blatantly seeming like an author’s agenda. This is definitely fiction, but there’s a lesson to be learned as well. I was fascinated by the events leading up to the race riots and how the fallout from that is still seen in present day. We call it history, but not everything remains in the past.
I will say that towards the end, the family lines and connections got a bit mixed up for me, but that also could have been because I stayed up way too late finishing it. I also wanted to know more about the dynamic between Will and his community. His mom was an Osage Native American, and surely that would have played some kind of role as well. Maybe it’s from having read Killers of the Flower Moon recently, but I did wonder why that aspect was overlooked.
Overall, this is an interesting, well-written, page-turner of a book that I think covers an important, forgotten part of American history. If you don’t usually read YA, please give this one a try. It is such a good story, and really shows how much we can learn from history, and how important it is to never forget the past. As Rowan says, “The dead always have stories to tell. They just need the living to listen.”
A Court of Wings and Ruin is the final book in the Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. It is the continuing story of Feyre, a mortal turned immortal, and her journey in the faerie realm of Prythian. This is a beloved fantasy series, and an author, Sarah J. Maas, that is new to me this year. (Check out my reviews of the first two books in the series HERE and HERE.) The novels are incredibly engaging, and while they are long, they are fast-paced and don’t feel long. The first two books really built up the world of Prythian. The third tore it apart, both literally and figuratively.
I have lots of thoughts about this.[Top]
This is the second book in the Sarah J. Maas trilogy that began with A Court of Thorns and Roses. (Click HERE to read my review.) If you haven’t read the first one and plan to, stop reading now! There will be a few little spoilers in this review.
Feyre, having survived Amarantha and Under the Mountain, has paid a huge price to save Tamlin’s life, as well as the lives of the entire Fae realm. Although she is now High Fae herself and has some strong faerie powers (although she has no idea how strong yet), she cannot forget what she had to do to save her new people. She also has her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court, to contend with. By the end of the novel, Feyre must decide what, and who, she wants, and if she is willing to harness her new powers to save the world again.
Even though I had been told that this book was even better than the first, I was hesitant, because sequels are just never as good. (Unless you’re Harry Potter.) I’m so glad I was wrong. Like A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury is slow to start, but after 100 pages or so (a drop in the bucket of an almost 700-page book) I couldn’t put it down. Just like the first book, I think this one is incorrectly categorized as YA, and if you like fantasy novels you’ll love this one. There are some formulaic plots going on here, but it doesn’t bother me. (We know we’re supposed to be rooting for Rhysand over Tamlin, we kind of know where it’s going end up, we just don’t know why. This novel really explores the why.) Formulas are fine if they’re done well, and Maas does a great job once again.
We get a lot more character development with Feyre, and a lot more with Rhysand. However, what’s different here from most other novels like this is that while we do have character development for both the female and male leads, their development is not dependent on each other. Whatever Feyre chooses to do with her powers and her future, you know she’s going to be making that decision by herself and for herself. Feyre is definitely not a princess in need of saving, and this book shows exactly why and how she can save herself, and not in an implausible way. This is what Disney princesses should be. (Without all the sexy bits.)
If you haven’t read this one, start now! The third book in the trilogy, A Court of Wings and Ruin, comes out May 2!