Five Seven Six (The Boy with Words, Book Two), by C.E. Wilson

A few months ago, I read and reviewed C.E. Wilson’s exceptional book Five Seven Five, the first of two parts in The Boy with Words series. I waited patiently after that doozy of a cliffhanger to find out what would happen next. The sequel adds a number to its title, so let’s see how the story adds up.

I’m going to do the best I can with my spoiler-free policy, but I am going to have to talk about events in the first part. If you haven’t read the first part, consider turning back now and going out and getting it. You have been warned.

First let’s recap the wonderful premise and plot of the first book. White lived underground in a very strict, somewhat dystopian, setting. They live in fear of being seen by the Creators, so they stay in the dark, colorless society. Only the Chosen Ones are allowed to venture beyond the zones, and they’re not allowed to discuss what they see out there. White had always been curious—fueled by the odd words (like clouds and trees) on the large papers her cousin Shade would bring paper for her. When Shade dies on an emergency away mission, White journeys outside where she learns the world is bigger than she ever imagined.

A lot bigger.

In an abandoned building, White meets Kes, a typical human college student except he’s enormous! White and her people are all five or six inches tall compared to normal humans (no wonder they’re encouraged to hide), and after a period of mutual fascination and distrust, White and Kes become friends.

The first book ended with White being forcibly brought back underground by Salt, another Chosen One and supposed friend of Shade. This was a tense moment that guaranteed I’d want to read the second part. What’s going to happen to White? Will she be re-educated (brainwashed) into forgetting what she saw on the surface? What’s going to happen to all of White’s people now that the kind giant Kes—who they look at as one of the fearsome Creators—knows about them?

Salt practically blackmails White, promising not to tell about her interactions with the Creator in exchange for some kind of relationship—he wants her more than she does, however. We have the first signs of a YA love triangle because White and Kes really hit it off, and she misses him and the independence that the real world represents.

The stakes are nicely raised when White does what she want and is found out, displeasing President Copper. Meanwhile, when White doesn’t return to the surface right away, Kes starts calling out for her. This could be dangerous for the colony not only because he’s big and could accidentally cause a lot of damage, but because the truth could shatter the regime Copper has built. Copper’s decision to appease the “Creator” calling for White was chilling and scary and unexpected and fraught with so many possibilities where the story could have gone—and it was a perfect blend of all the dystopian and romance and speculative elements of the story.

The second half of the book—though vividly described and well-written—is tonally different than what precedes it. There are definitely tense moments, and White’s feelings of insignificance in the giant world are fully realized, but none of the conflicts raise the stakes much higher. Maybe I’d feel differently if I read the two parts back-to-back—which you can do because Wilson released them as one full volume, The Boy with Words—but I feel the climax occurs earlier than I wanted it to.

The relationship between White and Kes is strong, and the resolution is satisfying, but there’s so much more I’d like to know about the world. It’s mentioned in the first book that White’s people are the “Forgotten Ones” of an experiment in human miniaturization gone awry, and maybe there were other facilities like the abandoned building that had done similar experiments. I want to know more about that. (How about a prequel, C.E.?) How did White’s colony become the dystopian society it is? How long before the events of this story did those supposed experiments take place? And if there were other facilities, what happened there and did people like White develop different ways of life?

Still, there is a strong theme layered through the story: the power of words. The big pieces of paper Shade had brought to White—little scraps of haiku tossed aside by Kes—are the words that fuel White’s desire to explore. She learns the names—more words—of all the beautiful things in the big world. Words can bring friends together, and words can hurt us, as White and Kes struggle to define their relationship and how it could possibly work. Words can heal us, and the significance of the increased number in the title is truly heartwarming. Those are some really deep words, C.E.

While the title goes up one, the rating goes down one. The aftermath of the cliffhanger is strong but I would’ve liked some of the loose ends tied up. How many STARS for Five Seven Six? FOUR.

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Five Seven Six is available at Amazon.

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