Monday, January 11, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2009 (Paperback)
Length: 479 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Science Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Started: December 28, 2009
Finished: January 11, 2010

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

Todd's village of Prentisstown on New World was colonized by Christian settlers from Earth seeking a new home. The war with the Spackle (native alien creatures) released The Noise, a germ that killed all the women and half the men and for the men left alive, it allowed them to hear everyone's thoughts. As the last boy in Prentisstown, the last place left on New World, these are the things Todd knows, the things his guardians Ben and Cillian have taught him. At least these are the things he thinks he knows.

After going through the surrounding swamp with his dog Manchee (who can also talk), Todd discovers something he has never known: silence, a place with no Noise. The mayor and the preacher hunt Todd down after realizing what he has found. Todd's guardians give him a book written by his late mother and tell him to run to the nearest settlement, which is the first shocker for Todd because he was taught there were no other settlements other than his own. They say all the answers are in the book, which is problematic because the boys in Prentisstown were not allowed to learn to read.

Todd flees with Manchee and eventually joins up with something else Todd has never seen before: a girl. After crash landing in a scouting ship that killed her parents, Viola joins Todd in his quest to unravel the past of Prentisstown and to outrun the army of men from there that are hunting them.

This book is amazingly written, not necessarily through Todd's very colloquial narration, but in the ideas represented. The Noise itself was creatively shown, using different fonts and sizes to show the Noise of an individual person or animal. The Noise also pops up suddenly, almost as if you really were reading someone's thoughts. The characters have a very specific dialect, almost Southern sounding, and the author actually spells it out in his writing as well as various spelling mistakes and phonetic spelling to show the lack of education they have.

The men of Prentisstown all have issues with Noise. They learn at a young age to protect their privacy as much as possible by reciting drivel to mask what they're really thinking. What does get through to others though, is pretty messed up, you can tell early on that the men of Prentisstown have some serious issues.

There's a lot of gender themes in this novel. Later on when Todd encounters other settlements and women and girls other than Viola, he learns that women are immune to the Noise. It makes him wonder what happened to the women of Prentisstown if the Noise didn't kill them. Todd is constantly frustrated by Viola's silence, the fact that she can hear his thoughts but he can't hear hers, that he's so used to knowing a person by their Noise and how that's not the case with her. Eventually, as he begins to see her as a person and not just "the girl", he gets to know her to the point where he doesn't need the Noise to tell him what she's thinking, he does what people have done forever: read her body language and pay attention to little quirks and facial expressions. His relationship with Viola is a microcosm of the larger problem of men vs. women in New World, that because women's thoughts aren't immediately known like men's, they are viewed as dangerous and are done away with. The gender issues also combine into other themes of control and violence. And man, is this book ever chock full of violence and creepy stuff in general, not like blood and gore, just systematic violence like you would find in wartime.

The action is a little slow in the beginning, I could have done without a lot of the descriptions of landscape, but it really picks up once Todd and Viola reach the first settlement and you get these little hints as to what happened in Prentisstown that's got everyone up in arms as soon as they hear the name.

The characters are all likable, even the villians for how amazingly evil and creepy they are. I loved Manchee, Todd's dog, I loved seeing Todd grow to like the dog he never wanted just as he grows to like Viola. Ben and Cillian were wonderful, I liked how you could view them as a gay couple raising Todd or just ignore it altogether (there wasn't a lot of evidence, nothing completely obvious, but c'mon, two men living together even when the women were around and then raising a kid together?) I also like how Ben and Cillian, possibly gay men, are portrayed as the only decent men in the whole town. Todd himself has some wonderful insights for an illiterate almost 13-year-old, a testament to the men who raised him, which contrasts to the thoughts of the other men, further illustrating the theme of innocence vs. experience which the readers don't fully understand until they find out what a boy has to do to become a man in Prentisstown.

If you like dark, dystopian fiction, read this! Due to the creepy subject matter I wouldn't give this to anyone not of high school age, unless they are very mature for their age and could handle it.

Thoughts on the cover:
The image on the cover is a little blah, but I love the shades of orange and the fact that the cover is littered with Noise, all in different fonts and sizes.

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