Have you ever imagined what the world might be like if reading never existed? Where spoken language is all that humans can rely on to communicate to one another? Well, Sefia knows what it is like to live in such a world, until a certain curious object is thrust into her hands and she’s sent on a treacherous journey to find out its secrets and what it could mean to the very world she lives in.
The Reader is a gorgeously written debut novel by author Traci Chee about a young girl named Sefia who, after her father is brutally murdered, is tasked with protecting a very unusual object in her world: a book. Reading is absolutely unheard of in Sefia’s world and when her only surviving guardian Nin gets captured, Sefia must uncover the secrets of the book she holds in order to not only save all that she loves, but also understand her past and future.
Richly engrossing, The Reader is unlike any young adult fantasy out there. There is a huge array of characters, each playing their own integral part in the novel. The main storyline is actually a combination of different tales and timelines, which all intersect at certain points within the novel. Each story and timeline plays into the mystery surrounding the book that Sefia holds, which may explain why reading doesn’t exist. Readers unravel it through Sefia’s journey, who happens to also be a “reader” herself, as she tries to figure out why people are after her and the book. In her journey, she discovers that the book is initially about a Pirate named Captain Reed and his crew. However, she later discovers the stories in the book sometimes move around and new tales pop up. And well, the Pirates in the book may not be fictional.
The format of the novel is quite unique, as the book’s story is a story within another. Transitions between Sefia’s world and the world within the book are shown visually on the novel’s actual pages. When reading about Captain Reed and his crew, the pages look burnt on the edges, as if reading an entirely different book. The Reader also features other physical distinctions on its pages such as smudged fingerprints, faded texts and even secret messages are printed near page numbers, further immersing the reader in the story. It makes the reader wonder, am I perhaps reading the actual book Sefia is holding?
Coupled with a gorgeous cover created by Yohey Horishita, the novel delights reader due to Chee’s masterful storytelling. The Reader shows its readers and even the characters the power of literacy and the wonders it brings, serving as a gateway to numerous worlds, history and even magic.