Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (Audiobook)

  • Listening Length: 16 hours and 23 minutes
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (April 8, 2014)
  • Source: Publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox)

The death of print is eminent. Books, magazines and newspapers have been replaced by Memes, handheld devices that are not only communication tools but sensitive enough to sense our every want. It is also connected to a virtual marketplace called the Word Exchange that allows people to create and sell language.

Anana Johnson and her father, Doug, work at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). Doug’s passion has always been the written word, refusing to embrace technology. His latest project is the last print edition of the dictionary to publish.  His passion is so great that, when he disappears, Anana is immediately concerned. The only evidence Doug leaves behind is a code word he and Anana would use when one another was in danger: Alice. As Anana begins her hunt for her father, a “word flu” has begun to devastate the population.  This illness forces people to speak in gibberish, spreading quickly with devastating results. When her closest ally in her search, her colleague Bart, becomes infected, Anana is even more determined to locate her father, certain that locating him will provide the answers to her unending questions.

The Word Exchange is a brilliantly executed cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. Set in the not-too-distant future, Graedon has created a world in which everyone is connected, virtually, long-ago abandoning the very thing we should hold near and dear to our hearts: the written word. Citizens were repeatedly warned of the potential consequences of such technology, yet these warnings went ignored. The conveniences of such devices far outweighed any consequences.  The fate of humankind is now at risk, the damage irreparable.

Alternating in points of view, readers get a glimpse of what transpires through the eyes of Anana and Bart. As Bart declines due to illness, his slips in language are made obvious in his dialogue. Listening to the audiobook, at first I assumed the narrator had misspoken, quickly realizing this was an intended point of confusion, further detailing the impact of the word flu.

This novel was recommended to me after I read and adored The Lexicon by Max Berry. Both books are tremendous feats of the written language that will force readers to reflect upon the very thing that ties us all together: language.  Devastating in its plausibility, there is no doubt that readers will contemplate putting away their electronic devices, stepping away from the computer, in favor of embracing the print word.

A note on the audio production:
This title was narrated by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia.  Overall, this was an outstanding audio performance. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for Garcia to intentionally slip up in word usage, using completely incorrect, or in some cases, gibberish words, to replace normal speech.

That said, there was something in the quality of the audio recording that irritated me. At times, it seemed as though excerpts of the book were edited in for the tone and quality of the narrator’s voice shifted into an almost hollow sounding tone, as if they were speaking from a hole or through a long tube. So obvious, this shift in quality, it would take me a few seconds to recover and become once again attentive to the narration.

At first, I thought perhaps this was just me, but when I played segments for others they experience this shift as well. So, while the narrators did an an outstanding job, something in the editing of the overall performance elicited a less than stellar listening experience. My personal recommendation would be to skp the audio, embrace the print version of this novel instead.

Bottom line: The Word Exchange is a must read for fans of the written word. Thought-provoking and lasting in message. Highly, highly recommended.

3 thoughts on “Review: The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (Audiobook)


  1. Good review. I’m sorry about the audio. As an FYI, the titles we receive from Blackstone in the reviewer program are high bit rate MP3 ARCs, usually before final mastering. This is so Blackstone can quickly get review copies into the ears of reviewers before final publication. I often have to wait a couple of weeks before I can even list the titles on our site, as cover shots and descriptions are completed. Last week, I experienced the same audio issue you described. Susan and a couple of others have, too. These issues are resolved in the final mastering process. You had no way of knowing this. Thanks for your participation in our program.


    1. Ahhh…well that makes sense, then. I’ve been listening to audios for years and this was the first time I’ve ever experienced this! Thanks for the information, Jeff!


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