The Reader by Traci Chee
Spoilers for dayszz!
Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.
I read the synopsis of The Reader awhile ago and I remember being excited and drawn into the storyline so I could not wait until I could read it. Overall, I did like The Reader but I did not love it. It had a lot of great qualities to it but at some points, I lost interest because of my inability to connect with the characters.
“Once there was a world called Kelanna, a wonderful and terrible world of water and ships and magic. The people Kelanna were like you in many ways–they spoke and worked and loved and died–but they were different in one very important respect: they couldn’t read.”
Sofia is on the run and she is unsure why. After the death of her parents, Sefia and her “Aunt Nin” have been in hiding, wandering all over to avoid being caught by “they.” This faceless enemy does eventually catch up to them, kidnapping Aunt Nin and leaving Sefia searching for her and answers.
The Power of Knowledge
Realizing that she needs to become stronger and figure out what the rectangle object her parents entrusted to her, Sefia learns that the object is a book. I found it fascinating how Sefia learns or I guess, relearns how to read. Sefia’s parents sacrificed themselves for this book and Sefia learns the power reading can be. This made me realize and apperciate how this parallels to our one history. Books and knowledge have always been considered to be powerful tools, especially in war. There have been times where armies have destroyed books or even during Nazi Germany’s reign, they burned Jewish literature and art.
“But books are curious objects. They have power to trap, transport, and even transform you if your lucky.”
I love this quote–reading is such a gift that we sometimes take advantage of. Reading changed me and I cannot imagine a world without being able to escape through literature.
Many characters and their perspectives weave throughout the text and later, it explains how they all relate and intertwine. We are able to watch with wonder as Lon is introduced to the Great Library and how only a select few determine who gets the power of reading.We also brave naval adventure with Captain Reed.
–Sefia and Archer
Sefia saves a boy she later names Archer from a life of fighting and together they form a team. Archer does not remember his past but he was a prized fighter for the impressers–men who steal boys and make them fight. This kind of sounded a little far-fetched but I guess it did add another layer to the text. I did like Sefia and Archer but I could not connect with them. I feel like the development in the story was pleasant to watch unfold but I could not relate with them. The feelings and emotions they go through are very extreme and not common.
The romance was cute, there is no other way to describe it. It does make sense why Chee does not devolve deeper into their romance, it fits well. Archer is damaged from his past and Sefia is afraid of getting attached but the mute Archer wiggles his way into her heart.
With the whole pirate scheme of the novel, it kind of gave me nightmares when I had to read Treasure Island for my Children’s Literature class. Academically or even periodically, it was a good book especially because Long john Silver made it ten times better, but I could not find myself liking it. Yes, it was interesting and I do appreciate Chee penning this, but it did not do it for me. Maybe if Long John Silver made a charmingly menacing appearance…..
There is a surprise at the end does shock me and gives me a couple of OMG moments but it also kind of reminded me of every dystopia novel ever made. OMG the government is not what it seems! Yeah, never head that one before.
Overall, The Reader is beautifully written, the illustrations are compelling, and a great adventure.