Monday, January 5, 2009

The book of never letting go

I've been meaning to review The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness for some time but, well, you know how blogging gets.

Explanashun: Todd is just a month from his thirteenth birthday, the age where a boy becomes a man in his town. And in his town, that's all there are: Men. Not long after Todd's birth, a germ coursed through his town. It gave men the ability (or the curse), to hear each others' thoughts. All their thoughts. All the time. They refer to it as the Noise, and it's a curse. The Noise, which is visual as well as auditory, means that Todd cannot hide anything from anyone. This same germ that granted the Noise to the men killed all the town's women. Or that's the story Todd has always heard. Raised by two close friends of his mother's, Todd is looking forward to manhood and maybe receiving a real hunting knife as a gift until the day he comes home and is told by his fathers to leave. Todd knows his hometown might not always be the safest, most genteel place in the New World, but he cannot figure out why he's being sent away with no information and only his mother's diary to tell him anything about the deadly secrets the town's men are hiding from him. On his way out of town he meets Viola, who's not just a girl but the only girl that Todd has ever met. What's stranger than a girl to Todd? Silence. Which is exactly what he gets from Viola. Together, they run for a place they only know by name: Haven.

What it is and what it ain't: I made the mistake of trying to read almost all of this in one day. The pacing is terrific and Ness has a strong grasp of how to spread action across chapters, but there's simply a LOT of this book to take in. Besides the nonstop action and the time it takes to build and imagine this dystopian world, there are Bible references and science fiction elements and a fair number of characters to remember. The juxtaposition of Todd's Noise with Viola's silence, and the Noise that comes from animals and other people, is wonderfully described, colorful and shocking. Also, if you don't cry during the Here section (read the book and you'll know what I mean), I think you may be missing part of your soul.It ends almost as abruptly as The Fellowship of the Ring, with Todd and Viola standing on the precipice of a sequel some serious evil. It takes a little tenacity to get through the opening of this book because of the unusual voice, but once you're past page 40 or so you can hear it in your head. Which brings me to this point:

The Knife of Never Letting Go might not be one of my personal favorites of the year (though I do plan to read the sequel), but it is one of the strongest Printz contenders out there. I think it's easy to forget, when we read books with awards in mind, that we lose so much when we cannot hear the words on the page being spoken. The very auditory nature of Todd's entire existence is what defines his world, which is why I think this book would be even better in audio than in print. The reason Viola confounds Todd so much in the first place is because he cannot hear her thoughts. The book is designed pretty well around what Todd hears in the Noise versus his own thoughts; the reader is never going to get the two mixed up. I just wish I could hear the book in addition to seeing it.

Recently, the Daily Mail wrote about Knife and Anthony McGowan's The Knife That Killed Me (Does anyone own a copy of this they'd be willing to lend me? I'd love to read it): Children's books are so violent they need a health warning. Of course, those that labeled The Knife of Never Letting Go don't seem to have read it. Big surprise there, given that the Daily Mail is almost as quality a publication as the New York Post.. If they had, they'd see that yes, there is violence in the book, but a major theme of the book revolves around not being violent and how Todd has been protected by his fathers from doing what the villagers believe will truly make Todd a man. Ness responds here: On being branded a health hazard by the Daily Mail.

Patrick Ness || review at Strange Horizons || review at Wands and Worlds

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