“Extinction is the saddest word,” Letta’s mentor tells her on his deathbed. “You don’t understand. In the old days, before the Melting, no one would listen. No one. The politicians just talked and talked. They used words to keep the people in ignorance.”
A dystopian novel, Patricia Forde’s The List takes place in our world after the polar ice caps have disappeared and sea levels have risen. Letta, our seventeen-year-old heroine, is only an apprentice when she abruptly inherits her master’s position as Wordsmith. Now a member of the elite, she’s one of the few people in the town of Ark who’s allowed to use the full scope of language. Everyone else must speak “List,” 500 words that leader John Noa has approved. (Yes. Letta lives in Noa’s Ark.)
The List doesn’t include words like “hope,” “love,” or “dream.” Noa considers these words too dangerous, since they encourage people to think about the future. Most articles are gone, as well as “Hello,” “Thank you,” and “Please.” People are only allowed to use specialized vocabulary if it’s necessary for them to do their jobs. Art and music of all kinds likewise have been forbidden.
As Wordsmith, Letta prepares basic Lists for Ark schoolchildren and specialized Lists for apprentices. She also thinks it’s part of her job to preserve non-List words so that humans can recover language at some future time, when our ancestors have proven they can handle it responsibly. What she doesn’t know is that Noa destroys her note cards, believing humans must be stripped of language completely.
Why? Noa theorizes that the remnants of humanity will only repeat the species’ mistakes unless drastic measures are taken. For him, homo sapiens must become mindless like other animals, focused exclusively on the present. Only then will we be able to stop acting like parasites and live in harmony with nature.
If Letta doesn’t stop Noa, he’ll destroy what’s left of human culture and intelligence. We’ll lose everything that makes us human.
Officially dubbed a “Middle Grade” book aimed at ages 10-14, The List rewards both young and old readers. Forde’s novel provides a thought experiment for understanding where humanity is probably headed without meaningful efforts to curtail climate change. Despite the bleak conditions that Ark’s residents face, however, The List is a gentle book. Part of this is due to Letta’s rather simple existence in a small protected town. Part can be attributed to the warmth and care of Forde’s spare, lyrical prose.
In particular, fans of Lois Lowry’s classic The Giver will enjoy The List, which is Forde’s first novel. Originally published in Ireland in 2015, it was released in the U.S. on August 1, 2017. Acclaim has followed in its wake – it has won the International Youth Library’s White Raven Award and was shortlisted for the Children’s Books Ireland Book of the Year Award.
The List was published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky on August 1, 2017. It is 368 pages, priced at $16.99 for both the hardcover and digital editions. Read an excerpt by pointing your browser here.
Elizabeth Galewski is the author of The Wish-Granting Jewel, a fantasy novel, and Butterfly Valley, a tale of travel and transformation based on true events. To learn more, please visit her official author’s website at www.elizabethgalewski.com.