Chooseday Tuesday: Patricia Forde “The List” ✏ What if Words … Were Banned?

The List

Title: The List
Author: Patricia Forde
Pages: 336

Released: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Format: Hardcover

Genre: SciFi, Dystopia
Goodreads Rating: 3.6 (of 1,523 ratings)


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In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.


The List is a particular experience. I devoured the book in one sitting (albeit, not unusual for me) and had no trouble keeping straight the many characters, plot-lines, and features specific to Ark’s world-building. On the other hand, I didn’t understand all the characters, plot-lines, and features specific to Ark. Which doesn’t entirely make sense, unless I unpack my statement, so let me get into my review.

As stated in the summary, Letta is the Ark’s apprentice wordsmith. Her job is to help regulate the words used by Ark’s citizens. Patricia Forde demonstrates the regulated speech of the Ark people, known as “List speech,” through verb-heavy sentences:

“Stop!” she cried. “No go up there! No go!”

Since Letta is the wordsmith (and thus has access to all the words, even the banned ones) and ends up interacting with practically only people who, for one reason or another, have access to full language, readers don’t see a lot of “List speech.” This has the unfortunate consequence that “List speech” is not fully explained. A few questions that came to me, but were never answered, include:

  • At the beginning of the novel, the town’s “ruler” John Noa demands the Wordsmith and his apprentice cut the List from 700 to 500 words. Never in the book is this mentioned again. It’s unknown how the words would be picked or how people would know the words are no longer “use-able.”
  • People in Ark receive different words based on their trade. Does this mean if I am a Healer, only I can use the Healer words? Then non-Healers won’t even know what the word means — so what’s the point? Do trade-specific words count towards the List total?

My lack of understanding about the List didn’t stop me from understanding the book as a whole. I could still grasp the basic idea: people in Ark can’t use whatever words they want, it’s all regulated by the Wordsmith. I … think? This is where my next question comes in: who exactly is John Noa?

John Noa is first introduced at the beginning of the book when, as I mention in my first question, he demands the Wordsmith cut the List down to 500 words (and yes, this is never brought up again). We learn through the book that Noa is the one who built Arc and Noa pretty much runs the town (not behind people’s backs or anything, they literally know he’s in charge). Basic information like this should not be a secret, but it takes forever to trickle down to the reader. 

Other basic information that takes forever to pass on? Who Desecrators are and who the Green Warriors are (I actually still am unsure). There definitely are great moments in dystopia when an author builds anticipation around an unknown concept (ex: W.C.K.D. in The Maze Runner) but I didn’t see the need in The List. There were too many new concepts that received poor explanations for surprise reveals to be added.

I do give Forde props though. Like I said, I read through this novel in a sitting. The book was an interesting read, with ongoing action. Main character Letta does not stop for a moment, constantly seeking out answers and digging up clues. She has an easy voice to slip into, and there’s something about her train of logic that I just easily accepted. Does she sometimes completely and utterly miss the obvious? Oh yes. But I didn’t get frustrated like I do with some books. In this case, I just kind of rolled my eyes like, “Oh, Letta,” and kept reading. I admired her persistence and her gutsyness.

Meanwhile, this book did pose several significant questions, including:

  • Is man better than beast?
  • Does the power of speech corrupt?
  • Do humans have the ability to stop the damage to the environment or are we too apathetic?
  • What is the value of human life?

But despite these questions coming up in the book, they were never actually answered … or to be honest, even meaningfully posed. People die in this book and the ways it comes about it so sudden — and then the deaths aren’t mentioned again. It’s as though they never happened, despite some of the more extreme cases that happen in this book. (Maybe the answer is we are too apathetic, haha).


Three crowns for The List. While I dropped a lot of questionable questions about this book, I actually did enjoy reading it. The characters were interesting, the plot was quite original (though yeah, it does have similarities to The Giver) and I was hooked from beginning to end.

Do I wish there was more follow-through on the questions posed to the reader? Yeah. And the ending? Quite abrupt. But it was a read that kept me hooked! I needed that! So I still recommend, for sure.

NOW, what genre should I read for the next week? Vote in the comments below! (I’ll be taking a little Chooseday hiatus in October to focus on pre-selected books for BPR’s Nightmare Before Book Princess Reviews Readathon, check out the post HERE to join in too!)


What book left you with 101 questions? Should a book answer every question it poses, or is it okay to leave the reader in just a little bit of limbo? Let’s discuss!


8 thoughts on “Chooseday Tuesday: Patricia Forde “The List” ✏ What if Words … Were Banned?

  1. I read a book a bit like this the other day! It’s called All Rights Reserved, and it’s set in a dystopian world where people have to pay for every word they say! And this sounds really cool too!


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