I first came across The List in a bookstore a few years ago. I loved the cover and couldn't resist a book about words. Once I settled in to the book, I was rewarded with a beautiful, yet haunting, dystopian tale about the power of language, the power of fear and the power of courage.
The List is set in a time after the polar ice caps have melted and the world as we know it has been destroyed by climate change. Few survived The Melting and those that did live in (or around) a community known as Ark, led by a man named John Noa. Noa, an outspoken climate change activist before The Melting, believes that it was language that allowed politicians to convince the people that climate change was not something to be concerned about. As a result, he has decided that language in Ark must be limited to The List - 500 words that people are permitted to speak, with few exceptions. As the wordsmith's apprentice, Letta is tasked with writing out word cards to be given to schoolchildren and tradespeople so that they may learn List. Letta believes firmly in the community of Ark and the existence of List, although she secretly hopes that one day people will be deemed responsible enough to have language restored to them. When her master disappears and a young man appears on her doorstep, speaking all of the words that have been banned, Letta's confidence in Ark, and John Noa, is shaken. As the new Wordsmith, she is tasked with shortening List to fewer and fewer words, while at the same time, the young man draws her in to a world of secrets, a world in which she must choose between the life she knows and the possibility of freedom.
The Last Lie continues the story where The List left off. If you haven't read The List yet, you may want to stop reading here, as there are definitely going to be spoilers from here on out.
Letta now lives with The Creators, teaching hedge school (a secret school to ensure that young children learn more words than List) and working to secure freedom for Ark, now ruled by Noa's wife, Amelia. Amelia continues to shorten List and finds ever more brutal ways to control the people of Ark, including trying to destroy The Creators. When the Creators' safehouse is raided, Letta and Marlo flee to forest, where they meet another band of rebels and uncover a sinister plot to silence the people of Ark forever. Letta now faces another choice - flee to freedom or stand and fight for the community, and the words, she loves so much.
I loved both of these books, separately and together. Much of the world-building takes place in The List so I highly recommend starting there as the story arc and characters will make a lot more sense. Patricia Forde's writing style is gentle and beautiful, even while describing fights and kidnappings, which makes the book a great introduction to dystopian fiction for younger readers. Although The Last Lie was a bit slow to start, the action picks up quickly and continues right through to the end of the book (and I suspect that if I had read them back to back the start would not have seemed quite as slow). Letta is a wonderful young woman, full of spunk and indignation and I appreciate how Forde infuses her with a healthy dose of self-doubt, without her seeming annoying or whiny. The book's foundational ideas of climate-change, power and the importance of language are timely and provide many opportunities for rich discussion in the classroom and at home.
Thanks to @NetGalley for the The Last Lie ARC.
Suitable for Gr 4 and up.
"Hate ricochets but kindness does too."
Julian and Adam could not be less alike. Julian is quiet, withdrawn, a loner. Adam is loud, boisterous and popular. Everyone is drawn to Adam's gregarious smile and upbeat nature, Julian is a target for bullies. As boys they were reading buddies and then, after Julian's parents died, they shared a bedroom for a few months, before he went to live with his uncle and they lost touch. Now at the same high school, Adam is drawn to Julian, at first because he is helping the school psychologist but then because he genuinely wants Julian back in his life. As Julian tries to make sense of this unexpected friendship, his home life begins to unravel, leading to consequences neither boy is prepared for.
*Massive Trigger Warnings* This book was one of those books that has you scrutinizing every quiet kid in your class, wondering if they're ok, hoping you're not missing the signs that they really are not. I loved Adam, the outgoing kid with ADHD who charms the socks off every adult and makes every kid feel seen, all while dropping his phone in the toilet and tripping over his own feet. But while Adam is important, this truly is Julian's story. Told in chapters alternating between Adam's perspective and Julian's, at first it seems that Julian is just a kid who struggles; struggles with reading, struggles with friendships, struggles with depression after his parents' tragic death in a car accident. As the relationship between Julian and Adam deepens, so too does the amount that we are let in to Julian's life at home. And this is where the trigger warnings come in. This is a story of child abuse, pure and simple. This is a story of a child placed in the care of an uncle who is deeply disturbed and who physically abuses a young boy. It is the story of how abusers can make their victims fall silent, of how abuse twists the minds of all involved. It is also a story of how small kindnesses can change one person's trajectory in life. It is not a story I would recommend for anyone who has experienced abuse or is in the foster care system. The depictions of the abuse are detailed and raw and real, told through Julian's eyes and lived over and over. It is a book I would recommend for teachers and others working with young people, to remind us to look for those kids that hide at lunch, those kids that miss multiple days in a row, those kids that seem to have no friends. It reminds us that we won't necessarily get answers from those kids but perhaps we can, through our words and actions, let them know that they are seen and valued. It reminds us that kindness matters and people do too.
,I was drawn to this book for a couple of reasons - first, the setting - my high school hometown, Toronto; second, I liked the idea of diving into the world of homeless teens. At first, the premise for how Harbour ends up in Toronto turned me off - what fourteen year old girl actually believes that her father would send her to camp out in a big city while he sails from Florida all the way to Toronto? As the book continues and Harbour begins to develop a relationship with a homeless teen named Lise, however, Kilbourne weaves a more and more believable explanation, slowly revealing bits and pieces of the whole story until you can see exactly how this could have come to be. This slow reveal is what really made this book for me; it kept me reading and it kept me guessing as to what the next little piece was going to be.
The look in to the lives of homeless teens is well done - revealing both the positives (the kind and caring shelter worker) and the negatives (predatory men, eating out of dumpsters, addiction, cold weather) with empathy and respect. The ending, while a little to coincidental for my taste, is not picture perfect and you are left with just enough questions to keep it from feeling like it was wrapped up with a tidy bow.
Safe Harbour is not a gritty look at the life of teens on the streets of Toronto as the flyleaf might lead you to believe; rather, it is an exploration of a young girl coming to terms with her family, friends and the harsh realities of life. Sure, the desperation of life camping out in a ravine in the middle of a big city, with no money and no lifelines underscores the story and provides the background for pivotal moments, but the true beauty of this book lies in the gradual unfolding of Harbour herself. As Harbour says at the very end of the book "I don't know everything about how I feel, or anything about how I should feel. I don't even know how I want to feel. But I know without a doubt that the ground is solid beneath my feet and it feels good."
Gr. 7 and up. Be aware of language and some content (drinking mouthwash, sexual predators - - implied). There is mention of a free downloadable teacher's guide but I was unable to find it on the Dundurn Press website (perhaps it will be available after the book is officially released Nov 2019).
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