Mariana Cotromanes

Writer, Blogger, Crunchy Mom


Book Review: The Word Exchange

Posted on April 25, 2014 at 8:15 AM

Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange is a fantastic work of literary speculative fiction. I found Graedon’s prose elegant, the characters’ voices authentic and accessible, and her descriptions successful in creating a conceivable “future world” in which the death sentences for the written word and spoken language have nearly been read.


The novel takes place “in the not-so-distance future;” one in which handheld devices called Memes handle human communication (they send text messages to the Meme owner to “stop talking” when it senses a tense conversation, and even hail taxi cabs just as the Meme owner thinks to do so). The latest Meme addition is the Word Exchange, which encourages individuals to look up the meaning of words and even add their own.


In journal format, in alternating chapters, we are given the perspectives of Anana Johnson, who works with her father Doug at the North American Dictionary of the English Language, and her colleague Bart.


Somehow Doug senses that the Memes and other new technology he is so much against would one day become a threat to him, so when he goes missing Anana must piece together the clues Doug left behind to find him.


“Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.” (from the publisher)


The premise of the novel is sci-fi-esque, yet based enough in reality that it begs readers to ask: could this really happen? If you are a lover of language and the written word you will especially enjoy this book, and it will haunt you after you’ve read the final page.


Suspenseful, creative, and well-done, I highly recommend this book.


(I received an e-book copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review)




Categories: Books/Book Reviews

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