The follow up to Patricia Forde’s acclaimed novel Wordsmith, this book is full of ideas that will challenge the reader to think.
Mother Tongue is set in a time after global warming caused the great Melting. The few survivors are trying to rebuild. Noah – the founder of a new society known simply as Ark – believed that words were to blame for the Melting. Lies and empty promises from those in power who refused to take the climate crisis seriously. He banned all but 500 functional words but retained a “wordsmith’ to store the words until people could be trusted to use them. If this wasn’t bad enough, the new dictator of Ark, Amelia, is determined to silence speech forever – even if that means separating babies from their families to ensure they never hear language.
Mother Tongue is the follow up to Patricia Forde’s novel Wordsmith which won the ‘White Raven’ award from the International Youth Library and was shortlisted for the ‘Children’s Books Ireland Awards’. I haven’t read Wordsmith but, fortunately, Mother Tongue stands alone. Indeed, while I could spot quite a lot of references to events in the previous novel, I was impressed how seamlessly the backstory was woven into the plot.
The premise behind the novels is certainly intriguing and, given current political events, the negative effects of language makes the position of Ark’s ruling elite easy to understand (although not to accept). The idea of babies being denied the opportunity to hear language is particularly sinister and I did wonder whether even more could have been made of this.
It’s not just this idea about language that made me think. Whilst the focus of the story is firmly on young wordsmith, Letta, the book is full of ideas that challenge the reader. For example, the divergent views between the two different groups trying to overthrow Ark’s rulers. Finn and his followers are determined to win people over, persuading them to rise up against their oppressors. Rosco and company, in contrast, advocate much more direct action, including violence where necessary.
The writing itself is immensely powerful. Told in third person from Letta’s perspective, we are so close to her thoughts that it often feels like first person. This intimacy with Letta is probably why so many of the other characters are harder to understand and feel somewhat distant in comparison. Having said this, however, I simple adored outcast, Edgeware, and was fascinated by the characterisation of Amelia. Indeed, I very much wanted to know a lot more about this embittered leader of Ark, especially her backstory. However, that may well be covered in the previous book: I think, perhaps, I should get myself a copy of Wordsmith and find out!
If you enjoyed this, you might want to try Wordsmith by Patricia Forde. If you’re looking for another chilling story about a possible future reality, you might want to read Outwalkers by Fiona Shaw. Alternatively, I’d strongly recommend The Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias – a teen love story set in a scarily believable post-Brexit Britain.
Publication Date: September 2019
Publisher: Little Island Books
Author’s website: Patricia Forde