Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

Posted April 7, 2014 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 20 Comments

Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Published by Doubleday on Apr. 8, 2014
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Speculative Fiction
Source: Publisher

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.

  • Thanks for a really nice review. The book sounds really cool and relevant . . . especially in a world of disappearing bookstores, books, and (seemingly) readers.

  • A world without paper books, libraries & bookstores? Oh no! This sounds right up my alley 🙂

  • Pingback: The Word Exchange - The Gilmore Guide to Books()

  • Thank you for this review! My anticipation for this book has been pretty huge, but I didn’t know whether to spend my limited funds on the hard cover, but you’ve sold me. This book sounds exactly like what I wanted it to be – Tania

  • This sounds really good, and really frightening!

    • Definitely a bit unnerving.

  • Yep. Gotta get it. Your review was the clincher. It just sounds so interesting!!

  • I was going to let this one pass, but everyone seems to love it. I think i’ll give it a try, but after the hype dies down a little.

  • Such a great description of the book! Also, I love the idea of “literary thriller” but you’re so right – it really is one!

  • sahiravik

    Wow! This sounds like such an exciting book! I already want to buy it immediately! I’m going to look for it on the net soon. Thanks for writing such a convincing review.

  • It sounds amazing, Leah and I think it is one of those rare books the two of us would love! However, I am partly terrified to read about a future where books and print are dead. Somehow it does not sounds so distopian to me…

    • It was scary! But I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon, with people like us in the world!

  • “Literary thriller” is a good term for it. I loved the various references. I was helping a colleague plan some activities for The Odyssey and start reading this to find allusions to The Odyssey! Plus more – loved those.

    • So many great literary references!

  • “Literary thriller” is such an accurate way to put it! There’s SO much to talk about the book. I really liked it as well and I think every book lover should read it like you said!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • I loved this too! It was so very thought provoking, I also found myself pondering it whenever I couldn’t be reading. The author’s mastery of language blew me away, as did her careful construction of the book’s structure. I was surprised to see how split reviews on goodreads are between great ones and terrible ones, but I can see where some people would find this pretentious or boring. It completely worked for me though 🙂

    • I loved it, but I can see why some people would find it unrealistic. I think some people took it as a criticism of technology, but I interpreted it more as a warning against becoming too dependent on our devices. I’m glad you loved it!