Release date: September 13th, 2016
My rating: 2/5 Stars.
My favorite quotes:
“We choose what we want to do and who we want to be. Sometimes you gotta fight hard for it, but it’s worth it, to choose for yourself.”
“Home’s what you make it…. Could be a ship. Could be what you carry around on your back day after day. Could be family. Or maybe just one person you love more than any other. That’s home.”
I’m quite disappointed in this book.
Before its release on September the 13th, Traci Chee’s The Reader seems to have received quite a lot of hype already, and after the release, it has been getting high ratings and very flattering reviews on Goodreads. But I’m going to go on a limb and say that half way through the book, I lost most of the interest and enjoyment reading it. Upon finish, The Reader is very mediocre compared to other young adult novels.
Let’s talk about the good things first. Before the first chapter, I was first met by an ancient looking map of Kelanna, a world that is entirely fictional. It greatly piqued my interest because I have always been thrilled to go on a journey in an entirely different world (that doesn’t have Donald Trump, at least). On the next page, there’s a worn-out page with text about words and reading; it says words contain magic and it seems to have hidden meanings that are to be revealed in the book. I have to say that the map and the page are quite well-done as they immediately get you wonder what this new world is like and what so special about a reader is in this world.
The way the story is introduced to the readers in this book is also worth to be praised. It sets on a world where people only speak but can’t write or read, which is a bit like the Ancient Greece. Regular people don’t know what a “book” is or that writing exists at all. History is passed on merely via speaking. But of course, there is this one group of people from an organization called Library who can read and write. These people also possess different superpowers—some can see the past of another person, some can manipulate objects without touching them, and some can teleport. But the Library is in search of a particular book (hence referred to as “the Book”), which is carried by Sefia, one of our main characters, who, together with her aunt Nin, has been constantly running from the Library’s pursuit since many years ago. A major event happens right at the end of chapter one, and from there the novel picks up the pace. The reason why I was very drawn by this world is that, you don’t see a lot of fantasy books set in a world where something as basic as reading doesn’t even exist. As a reader, I was extremely intrigued about what kind of story Chee can create about readers.
From my experience, it’s not an often case that a novel has a captivating opening like this; even most of my favorite novels of all time have quite a big chunk at the beginning for the foundation of the story. So I was definitely quite impressed with the first few chapters and expected climaxes after climaxes.
But they never came. The whole plot seems very linear; the very few plot twists it has are extremely underwhelming and ordinary.
One of the biggest problems about the writing is that it shifts from one story to another way too abruptly and I was often left confused at the starts of many chapters. I know that a lot of other writers do this, but they do it in a way that the new chapter will remind you of where this chapter is connected to and where you are in the story. That’s not the case with The Reader. To make things worse, another big problem is that the book introduces too many characters in too many separated stories. Because of the lack of coherence among stories, I had a very hard time understanding how each is connected to another. Indeed, the book reveals the connections at the very end, but it wasn’t anything mind-blowing, and I felt like all the confusion I had throughout the book wasn’t worth it. There isn’t any big reveal, which I think is what the author intended to do, and failed. One example is that you read about the story of Captain Reed from the Book—the book Sefia is carrying—and you can’t really figure out how it connects with the previous few chapters or the next few chapters. When Captain Reed finally appears, you already forget who he is (at least I did). Therefore, I ended up skimming the excerpts from the Book at the end of some chapters as they read highly irrelevant and boring.
Another big problem is the lack of explanation. First of all, what does the symbol that keeps appearing mean? Addition to that, the symbol doesn’t have any magic and it’s nothing special. You would expect the symbol to have a very huge role because it appears again and again and again, right? But nope, it’s just a symbol and that’s it. That was quite a disappointment. Second, why is the Book so important that the Library has spent decades trying to find it? There is a very brief explanation of the Book at the very end, but it doesn’t show why it is so important. Third, the whole story of Tanin and the Assassin is quite a mess. They are so briefly narrated that you don’t know what they are trying to do and where they are coming from, and yet they turn out to be some important characters at the very end. Fourth, why on Earth are Archer and Sefia in the crate for so long? Fifth, why can Archer, who has been mute since his first appearance, suddenly speak in the end? So many holes are yet to be filled. The stories just don’t flow.
After finishing the book, I didn’t miss anybody, nor did I feel “book-drunk”—the feeling when you can’t stop thinking about the story and the characters from a great book you just read, and you feel like you are still “in the book” for a while. None of the characters left any indelible impression on me. I didn’t feel like I came back from another world or from an exciting adventure. I didn’t want to read the second book of the series. I’m not a picky reader at all (I believe not, at least), but this book is a big lackluster considering the hype it has.
I wouldn’t recommend this. There are much better young adult novels out there.