The List is set in the future after the Melting, an apocalyptic event caused by global warming. John Noa, a passionate environmentalist, had the foresight to prepare for the Melting by building a city that could sustain human life when disaster came and all technology was destroyed. He hoped to create a utopian city, Ark, where the balance between man and the natural world was restored and people were content to live in the present. Noa implemented a harsh regime to suppress the individuality of the survivors and keep them from destroying the earth. He forced the people to live frugally and line up for their daily rations of food and water. He even restricted their speech to seven hundred key words, known as The List.
Letta, the protagonist, lives in Ark. She is the Wordsmith’s Apprentice. She transcribes individual copies of The List for each school child, copies of the occupation specific words that are supplied to apprentices on their first day of work, and lists of words that have been lost or removed from circulation so they can be preserved by the Wordsmith for the future. Wordsmiths, including Letta, have the privilege of learning the old language and speaking as they wish. When Noa decides to curtail the use of language further, it is the Wordsmith’s job to decrease The List to five hundred words.
Early in the story, the Wordsmith goes missing whilst on a word-finding trip. Letta has to step up and assume his position. She senses that something isn’t right and attempts to uncover the mystery around his disappearance. When she harbours Marbo, an injured rebel, she is exposed to life outside Ark. These significant events cause her to question everything she believed in. Her perspective on Noa shifts, and she recognises Noa’s censorship and tyranny. She is shocked to realise how restricted life within Ark is. The stakes increase when Letta uncovers Noa’s plot to eradicate language and attempts to foil his plan at any cost.
The List is an engaging story about Censorship, the beauty and power of words and the importance of language. Forde is, undoubtedly, a Wordsmith. Her generous, creative use of words contrasts the inhibited speech of the people of Ark. This contrast is also apparent through the use of characters who speak freely amongst a community that speaks List.
It is interesting to reflect on which words would be lost if you could only use five hundred. In one scene Letta finds a box of preserved words that are no longer in circulation. These include dream, hope, love and faith. Creatures are known as a species with individual characteristics removed. For example there is no word on the list for ‘ant’, the only word used is insect. The permitted words are a bare minimum which allow Noa to communicate to the people with written notes, but cause the people to struggle to communicate with each other. The List provides no way to describe feelings and no room for self-expression. In fact, all creative pursuits, such as music and art have been banned within Ark. Reading The List caused me to value the freedom of expression I have.