In this futuristic dystopian novel, set only a couple of years in the future, everyone is totally reliant on their smartphone-like devices called Memes. So when a disease commonly referred to as the “word flu” begins spreading throughout the population and Synchronic, the company responsible for producing Memes, is suspected as being the possible culprit, chaos ensues. Anana’s father Doug, the editor of the last dictionary in print, suddenly goes missing just before the illness hits, and Ana has to struggle to find him, not knowing who she can trust or even if she can trust herself with her aphasia. Things get even worse when she finds out that Max, Ana’s ex-boyfriend, is the creator of the insidious game that Synchronic is using to take over the market on language. Bart, Doug’s employee and Ana’s secret admirer, is caught up in the action as well, and his journal entries make up several chapters in this book.
I had a few problems with this otherwise quite enjoyable book. First of all, for the first half of the book, very little happens. There’s general confusion about the disease, which isn’t quite rampant enough to be exciting, and although Synchronic is clearly evil, there is very little information about how or why they do what they do until the second half of the book. It doesn’t make for riveting reading, although the pace picks up considerably in the second half. Another issue I had with this book was its description of how the word flu actually works. I’m no scientist (or computer expert), but the explanation really didn’t hold up.
I also took issue with how strong a stance this book took against modern technology. Sure, there are drawbacks to being addicted to your phone, but there is a lot of good to be found in our connectedness as well. I certainly don’t think that ebooks are a bad idea or that spending time on the internet will cause you to forget words like “multitude” or “rotten.” Yes, it was exaggerated for the sake of making a more interesting story, but it still rankled me a bit.
The good stuff–there are secret societies dedicated to protecting language and printed books, there are many subtle (and not so subtle) allusions to Alice in Wonderland, the narrative goes back and forth between Ana’s reflections after the events and Bart’s journal during the midst of them, and there is a deep look into the importance of words and the impact of language on our culture. The Word Exchange an interesting read, especially if you’re a word lover as well as a book lover.
Rating: Good but Forgettable