The Reader by Traci Chee (2016)

Beautiful language and a complex story woven of many threads mark this book designed for book lovers.

Recommended grade level: 8 and up

Pages:   442 (for ISBN 9780399176777)

Genre(s) and keywords: fantasy, diverse

Tone/Style: lyrical

Pace: leisurely

Topics: books, pirates, past trauma, fugitives, magic

Themes: reading, friendship

Summary: A stunning debut set in a world where reading is unheard-of, perfect for fans of Inkheart and Shadow and Bone.

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.


With overlapping stories of swashbuckling pirates and merciless assassins, The Reader is a brilliantly told adventure from an extraordinary new talent. (Source)

Who will like this book?: Librarians! And other adults who love books. Among young readers, give it to those who like to let a book seep into their bones. It’s leisurely-paced, but that leaves room for the rich world and lyrical writing. 

Who won’t like this book?: Those who like a quick and/or straightforward story, fans of action and suspense, and reluctant and struggling readers.

Other comments: This doesn’t contain mature content, but both the plot and language are complex enough that I feel they’re a better fit for the average reading level of 8th graders and up.

Sequel(s): The Speaker (expected 2017)

Readalikes:  Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older has a similar feel and art infused with magic, though its modern urban setting is quite different from The Reader‘s. Other lyrical, atmospheric fantasy includes The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill and The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. The publishers recommend it for fans of Inkheart and Shadow and Bone, but I haven’t read either of those so I can’t comment on that.

-Kylie Peters

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