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April 24, 2014 / Leslie

Book Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

The Word Exchange by Alena GraedonThe Word Exchange
by Alena Graedon
Narrated by Tavia Gilbert, Paul Michael Garcia

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Doubleday
Publish Date: April 8, 2014
Formats: Audio: 16½ hours | eGalley: 386 pages
Audio Listening Level: Intermediate
Rating: 2½ of 5

From the Publisher:

In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted death of print has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are a thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but have become so intuitive as to hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the “North American Dictionary of the English Language,” where he is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used e-mail to communicate or even actually spoke to one another. One evening, Doug disappears, leaving a single written clue: ALICE a code word he and Anana devised to signal if one of them ever fell into harm s way. Thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole.

My Thoughts:

When I read the publisher’s synopsis (above) I immediately moved this to the top of my reading list. A literary science-fiction thriller involving the death of language in a near-future world where almost all printed material is gone and ‘memes’ (smartphone-like devices) have become essential tools sounded so good, and it could have been if it wasn’t so difficult to stay involved in the story.

Despite a compelling premise, the story didn’t take off until after the half-way point. The concept was good, the execution not so much. It got bogged down in lots of stream of consciousness rambling and overly descriptive narrative that was confusing, distracting and didn’t make me care much about any of the characters.

I began by listening to the audio, but with the slow progress in the plot my mind kept wandering. After a few hours I switched to an eGalley figuring if I was reading faster it would be more interesting. But there were all these annoying footnotes forcing me to jump to the end of the chapter to complete the thought. I suppose they were there to make some point or other but it was lost on me.

At about the half-way point I put this book down for a week before returning to the audio version. I was interested enough to want to find out how it ended and there were still a lot of questions to be answered. Anana’s father was still missing. The Word Flu Virus was spreading and people were speaking nonsense words. (However, the inclusion of actual non-sense in the dialog was another distraction that made it hard to understand and follow a conversation). At this point we still know little about the word flu or where it came from. Eventually we do learn the history of the memes, those smartphone-like devices, and a corporate conspiracy is revealed and most of the questions are answered.

The last third of the story was much better, but I don’t like to work this hard to read a book.

Audio Production:

The audio production was competently performed by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia. The story was told in alternating points of view between Anana and her friend and co-worker, Bart. My only problem with the audio was that it was difficult to keep my mind from wandering when I came to an overly verbose section. When the story picked up I had no problem paying attention. The pacing of the novel was uneven but it was not the fault of the narrators – both of their performances were fine. And those footnotes I mentioned earlier? Much easier to hear them read right along with the text – an improvement over the need to jump to the end of each chapter, multiple times, in the print version.


Those who like speculative fiction might want to give this a try. The story line was clever but, although this is a genre I usually enjoy, the writing style wasn’t for me. If you’ve read this and feel differently let me know or leave me a link to your review.

Source: Review copies provided by Blackstone Audio and NetGalley.
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Leave a Comment
  1. BermudaOnion / Apr 24 2014 10:02 am

    Stream of consciousness rambling drives me crazy so I’ll skip this one. Thanks for the review!


    • Leslie / Apr 24 2014 10:09 am

      Me too. I keep trying and failing with this type of writing.


  2. Sue / Apr 25 2014 7:29 am

    Good review, it sounded interesting (publishers blurb), until I read your comments. Thanks, I’ll pass on this one.


  3. Stormi D Johnson / Apr 27 2014 4:30 pm

    I tried listening to this one and gave up by the third chapter and didn’t even try to read the egalley. I don’t DNF a lot of books but this was one of them. It sounded so good by like you said the execution of it wasn’t so great.


  4. Leeswammes / May 11 2014 3:13 pm

    I enjoyed this one and would have sworn this is a book for you. It was a bit long-winded, I agree.


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