The Reader by Traci Chee

For the longest time, reading books was a chore. I read to avoid talking to people and I read to escape my problems. The words started to slide off the page, like alphabet bits into alphabet soup. I read, but I could not see the story’s landscape in my head. I read, but the characters stood like shrivelled trees waving about in my head. I read, but I was actually thinking about what to eat for lunch.

Then, almost two years later, I walked into the library to find a non-fiction book but my feet gravitated to the fiction shelves (did they change the position of the books on the shelf?) and I picked up a book out of habit. The Reader. It’s the first book in a series of books. I didn’t usually read those because the library doesn’t have a consistent habit of buying the rest of the books in the series.

But it had a pretty cover. And an interesting synopsis: In a world where there is no language, a girl, Sefia, wanders the globe with her only living relation, Nin, hiding from unknown enemies. When Nin is captured, Sefia left with a rectangular object filled with pages of squiggles that these enemies are looking for. She teaches herself to read and uncovers the secrets behind the words in hopes of finding her aunt. With a team of pirates and an enigmatic stranger, she discovers more: the story behind her father’s death and a nefarious plot against the world.

This book tells of the power of stories through a cast of very real characters and a vivid fantasy landscape. Deftly, the author creates a beautiful world of honour, history and magic. Somehow, the words flow easily, the characters alive and breathing when I run my eyes across a page of squiggly lines, moving, fighting, talking, struggling. The world forms around the characters, the trees, the blood, the dusty villages, the salt air.

The Reader does not just tell Sefia’s story, it tells her story to the reader. The reader is a character in this book. The one watching the scene unfold, the one feeling the pain of the characters or the one listening to the conversation. The reader has roles in each page and I flip the page to its back cover far too quickly.

Update: I’ve read many other books since.




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