Book Review: The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

Originally published in the April 18, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission. If you don't already receive it, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

The Word Exchange, Alena Graedon's debut novel, introduces readers to a not-so-distant future in which the oft-predicted death of the book has come to pass. As people become more and more dependent on their "Memes"--devices similar to our current smartphones, but with more predictive functionality--books, newspapers and dictionaries have become increasingly obsolete. Perhaps it is because of the obscurity of his work that lexicographer Doug Johnson has started to become paranoid about his safety--but when he goes missing, his daughter, Anana, is forced to accept that his fears may not have been unfounded.

As Anana probes deeper and deeper into her father's disappearance, it becomes clear the missing lexicographer lies at the heart of a larger problem: a "word flu" that is threatening the world's ability to communicate.

The Word Exchange is a riot of a read, asking big questions about our present and our future; Anana's investigations force readers to consider the ever-increasing role technology plays in our day-to-day lives and the importance of language in shaping our identities and communicating with the world around us. Graedon's clever incorporation of obscure vocabulary will leave those reading on paper reaching for the nearest dictionary--while those reading on devices will think twice about clicking on the words on the screen to look up their definitions.

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The Word Exchange | Alena Graedon | April 2014 | Doubleday | Hardcover | 384 pages

4 comments

  1. Coffee & a BookChickApril 18, 2014 at 11:30 AM

    I question the role technology plays in my life frequently; I feel so dependent on these things my job revolves around and even in my personal life. I know we always ask, "What would we do without this or that piece of technology," but I cannot fathom what I'd do without mine. It's a scary thought to think about those who go off the grid and if I could ever do that. I fear I don't have the strength for it!


    And a "word flu?" That alone will drive me to pick this book up. In a paper copy, of course. :)


    Great review!

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  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one - I think it's a really interesting concept and I'm looking forward to getting to it.

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  3. I really liked it. I was hooked in just a few pages!

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  4. Thanks! The whole concept was really interesting--definitely had me thinking twice about looking things up on my phone--and like you said, really makes you think about how technology plays into our everyday lives.

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