The Flame Alphabet reviewed in Library Journal


Marcus, Ben. The Flame Alphabet. Knopf. Jan. 2012.

Fierce, scary, hurtful, unsettling, and brilliant, this new work by award-winning novelist Marcus (Notable American Women) reminds us that language is dangerous and that we’ll do anything to protect our children, even when they are (literally) killing us. In the world imagined here, a terrible epidemic has descended: whenever children speak, adults sicken and eventually die. At first, only Jewish families are stricken, stirring echoes of history’s uglier sentiments. But soon every adult is affected. Near death, with her ailments graphically described, Claire still longs for daughter Esther, a standard-issue obnoxious teenager who’s hardened with the knowledge of her power. A scene of her crouching over a fallen man, pouring poisoned words into his ear, is positively chilling. But what terrifies Esther’s morally tough father, Sam, is that soon Esther will be an adult—and subject to the same horrors as her parents. When a quarantine is called, Sam and Claire prepare to leave, but Claire collapses, and Sam must go on alone; he ends up in a creepy laboratory where a cure for language toxicity is being sought. What keeps him going? The vision of his family. VERDICT Highly recommended, though not for those wanting easy thrills; demanding writer Marcus wants us to think. [See Prepub Alert, 7/18/11.]—­Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal