Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2008
Where I got it: The library, yo.
In an unspecified year in the future on an unspecified planet that is not Earth, there is a virus that broadcasts a man's thoughts to all nearby; this is called Noise. It is in this strange new place where no thoughts are secret that we meet Todd Hewitt— he is almost 13 years old, the time a boy becomes a man according to the laws of Prentisstown, his settlement on New World. But one day he finds a bubble where there is no Noise, but a silence so palpable he can feel it. His discovery leads him to flee Prentisstown and the only life he has known, to he knows not where. And he begins to see that not all he has been told his whole life is the truth—Prentisstown has some deep, dark secrets that could spell the end.
Ness has created a wholly original world with a premise full of promise and potential, both of which he fully meets. The action and suspense starts from nearly the beginning, and it is hard to put down from that moment on. There are always new discoveries and revelations that are waiting to be found—what is the secret history of Prentisstown? Why do Todd's caretakers refuse to tell him what is going on? What are all of these creatures and events that Todd refers to? I was compelled to keep reading so I could find these answers.
The style of the writing is superb. It is written completely in vernacular, though it is Todd's language and not our own. Ness perfectly captures the accents with the spelling of the words, making it easy to hear what Todd and the various other characters sound like. He also often writes in run-on sentences that perfectly capture what Todd's Noise sounds like to those nearby who can hear him, making it seem as if we are listening to his thoughts and Noise instead of reading his memoir. It is completely in the moment, and we are there with him.
Manchee, Todd's dog, is also a wonderful character. On New World, the animals can talk and Manchee is exactly as you would expect a dog to sound. It reminded me of Doug from the movie Up; short sentences, mostly just single words to express what he wants Todd to know. Though Todd is reluctant to accept responsibility for him at the beginning, Manchee is incredibly loyal and becomes much more than just a dog to Todd.
Not only is this a fantastic adventure story, it is a terrifying dystopia with many messages slipped in about war, post-Colonialism, gender roles and ethical decisions. The knife referred to in the title becomes something of a symbol throughout the course of the book, as well as an integral piece of the story. It is the one thing Todd is constantly aware of, the one thing for which he knows the location at all times. This will generate a lot of discussion about all of the above, especially in this, a time when war is constantly on the news. What is right? What can Todd do to counter all the evil that surrounds him?
I highly recommend this to everyone who likes action, science fiction, dystopian fiction, and coming-of-age novels. This is an especially great series for readers who liked The Hunger Games and the other books in that series—many of the same themes and issues are addressed, but in a better story with a better execution, in my opinion.