Published by Doubleday on Apr. 8, 2014
Genres: Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Set about a decade in the future, The Word Exchange portrays a world in which paper books and newspapers are a thing of the past, libraries and bookstores have shuttered their doors, and most people rely on handheld Memes for everything from communicating with friends to ordering food in restaurants to looking up hard-to-place words in conversation.
Our story opens shortly before the launch of the third edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), which will be the last edition to be published in print. Ana works for the Dictionary under the direction of her father Doug, its Editor in Chief. The third edition has been his life’s work, and its publication will be the triumph of his career. However, one night Doug vanishes from the NADEL office, leaving a single written clue for Ana to find: the word “Alice,” a code word they had agreed to use if either of them were in trouble.
From here, Ana falls down the rabbit hole as she searches for her missing father. Her adventure takes her to a mysterious “creatorium” in the NADEL‘s sub-basement, an exclusive members-only library, the headquarters of a secret society, and subterranean passageways below New York City. Meanwhile, Ana’s ex-boyfriend’s tech start-up is preparing for a massive deal with the Meme’s manufacturer, and a dangerous “word flu” is spreading like wildfire, robbing its victims of language.
This highly original debut novel grabbed me immediately and refused to let me go. For the few days it took me to read The Word Exchange, this book was all I could think about. I sat through long days at work, counting down the hours until my lunch break so I could devour a few more pages. The near-future culture Graedon portrays feels realistic, and I loved the way she presented technology vs. language. This book is gripping, well-paced, and full of twists and turns to keep you guessing.
The Word Exchange is a must-read for book nerds. It’s smart, funny, and a love letter to language and literature. I mean, Doug and Ana’s code word is Alice, and this novel is chock full of literary references. I want to call it a “literary thriller” because it’s a thriller in that there’s a mystery and adventure and huge stakes, but it’s literary in that everything depends on WORDS. I.e., the future of humanity hangs on people reading, conversing, and knowing words. It is so, so great. I read this book back in February because I couldn’t resist any longer, and when I finished reading I just wanted to run around demanding that everyone read it. I was so disappointed that I couldn’t really do that because it wouldn’t be out for a while!
I am so in love with this book. It’s intelligent, well-written, thought-provoking, nerdy, and so much fun. I can’t wait to see what Graedon does next — but until then, I encourage everyone to read The Word Exchange!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.