The Word Exchange
By Alena Graedon
Review by Zoey Mills
In the not-so-distant future, the death of print has become a reality. Memes, or handheld “smart” devices, are seemingly taking over the world. Not only does the handheld device keep us in communication but it can also hail a cab, order take-out, or even look up definitions of words with one simple thought. Anana Johnson, and her father Doug, are editing the final printed edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. But, when Doug mysteriously disappears two nights prior to the publication, Anana goes into a panic in search of him, only to uncover a much more dangerous plot, than she ever imagined. Join Anana and Bart as they race against time, The Word Flu, aphasia, and so much more as they not only try to find her father, but also save the printed word.
If you are a bibliophile, logophile, and love mysteries, then this is the book for you. The Word Exchange encompasses so much more than a mystery. It’s a meditation on technology, it’s science fiction, it’s speculative fiction, and it’s a (sort-of) love story… or rather, a story about love. You’re guaranteed to find one thing enjoyable about The Word Exchange.
Graedon’s interpretation of language, its dynamic nature, and the threat of technology is what kept me turning the page. I’m one to pick up a physical book before downloading an e-book, and I often worry how society is being impacted by quickly developing technology. Seeing the world distracted by glowing screens terrifies me, and in reading Graedon’s novel, it terrified me even more. Despite the highly fictional idea of “word flu” being transmitted through electronic devices, it’s an idea that is still easily relatable today.
I was also extremely fascinated by Graedon’s construction of the novel. Split between two differing characters, there was a clear break in language and styles of writing (one seeming verbatim and the other through the means of a journal). Aphasia, a disorder that affects communication, is at the fore-front of the novel. And so, Graedon’s language, at first, can seem overwhelming, but, don’t take her flowery language at face value. There’s a reason she employed language this way– to explore the threat of losing language.
The Word Exchange is clever in every respect of the word. Her novel, although clearly fictional, is highly relatable and sparks thoughts about technology, print, and where our future is headed.
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About the reviewer: Zoey has been working at the Reference Desk at Tredyffrin for about two months now, and has been working at Chester County Library for a year and a half. She is currently attending Drexel University in hopes of becoming a full-time reference librarian. When she has free time she enjoys reading science fiction, speculative fiction, and biographies.