Honest and lively YA book reviews
I feel like I read so much I've numbed my brain. I've made it difficult for myself to really feel anything for a character and to become really captivated by a plot. I read and I think. I read and I think. And I begin taking a very clinical view towards fiction - judging the craft, the world-building, the character development from a rather cold standpoint. I can enjoy, very much so, but do I really feel? Not often. Not until a powerful, kick-in-the-ribs kinda book like The Knife of Never Letting Go totally blows me away with the overwhelming feels.
Despite my initial dismay at cracking it open and discovering that goddam dialect and all those fucking misspelled words, which feels like nails scratching a chalk board to me, it really didn't take me long to get the hell over it and just love this novel.
Todd lives on a distant planet where humans have travelled in order to build a better life away from the violence and overcrowding of Old World. Here there is a phenomenon named Noise whereby all the men's thoughts are displayed out loud for everyone to hear. Even the animals have a voice. When Todd is forced to leave his home town one month before his 13th birthday when he will officially become a man, and meets Viola, a girl who's thoughts are silent, he realises that he cannot trust what he has been led to believe is true about his hometown, Prentisstown. The two of them embark on an epic and dangerous journey to find safety and freedom from the madmen that hunt them, discovering along the way that the world is far more than they ever imagined.
Todd is not an initially particularly likeable narrator. His voice just grated on me for the first 100 pages or so but the writing has a flow to it that makes it easy to sink into and the unusual sentence structures and spelling really didn't bother me after too long. Once I pulled myself together and got over this, the story was just an amazingly engaging, relentless adventure. To call this Children's fiction is, I hesitate to say insulting. But yeah - it's insulting. This is so much more than a book for children. There are some amazing children's novels but really, they're hard to find. All too often the characters are two-dimensional and wooden, the narrative is overly simplistic and the action too clean and tidy. The Knife of Never Letting Go however was really not what I was expecting. This is a book about the problems of colonisation, power and dehumanisation, loyalty and friendship, empathy and maturity and acceptance. This book feels important because it just covers so many bases. The sheer amount of stuff crammed in there makes it such an overwhelming and powerful read, I felt the need for a bit of a lie down afterwards to catch my breath.
Although the book is very plot heavy, the characters really drive it. Todd was very well created and although I took a while to warm up to him (he is a twelve year old boy after all though, I'm not surprised I didn't immediately take to him) I really have to admire how brilliantly written he is throughout. He has his flaws, as all good and genuine characters do and he makes some really shitty choices but he's true to form and he feels so damn real. The narration is written in first person present tense, bringing us right up beside Todd as he runs for his life. I liked this style, I feel like it put us straight in the middle of the chaos but the only problem I had with it was the withholding of information. I can understand why this was done to build tension and maintain mystery but really? C'mon. First person present tense with action occurring supposedly in real time but somehow the main character manages to keep a massive secret from us? This doesn't really work because it simply doesn't make sense. We're hearing the main characters thoughts after all.
When the twist was revealed it wasn't much of a surprise. There were too many clues dropped along the way. But to be honest, it didn't really matter. The point the author was making was huge - tied into sexism and fear of the unknown and what is means to be a man. And I just loved it y'all. I could gush on about this book because it's just so clever - an outline of all that's warped about society and the way we interact with each other beautifully packaged in this fabulous adventure. It very much reminded me in lots of way of the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman, another awesome trilogy for younger readers with a very powerful message wrapped up as the epic journey of a boy and a girl. These were my absolute favourite books when I was a child so to find something comparable is really quite awesome.
One of the best characters of the whole damn book was Todd's talking dog Manchee. He's perfect - this is exactly what my dog would sound like if she could talk to me, I'm certain. I'm quite superstitious and I always make a wish on a shooting star and every time I always wish my dog could talk. This sounds super childish and a complete waste of a wish when people are dying from starvation and disease in the world but I'm not only childish but frivolous also, and my dog is my side-kick. If she could speak to me my life would be complete. Though according to Patrick Ness most of the time she would just bark "Ally, Ally, Ally!!" but that's fine. I'll take that. Manchee is loyal and brave and everything a good dog is. Todd resents him in the beginning. He would rather have had a dirt bike as a birthday gift, but the portrayal of his growing love and appreciation of Manchee as the truest friend of them all is so beautiful and just perfect. Unfortunately my heart was smashed into little tiny pieces over Manchee in the end. Why, Mr Ness? Why?!! The poor dog's final scene twisted me up in knots.
The book ends on a goddam cliffhanger. Why do you do this to me authors?!! You kill me with your fucking cliffhangers. I wish I had just bought the whole frigging series when I saw it in the store the other week because now I just have to find out where this is going. There were so many amazingly written, heart felt scenes towards the end of the book - Viola reading Todd's mother's diary aloud, Todd's realisation that he does not need to hear Viola's thoughts to understand and know her, Viola stepping in to protect Todd's innocence and save him from the evil of the Prentisstown men - it was endlessly emotional, but without the cheese of sentimentality. And then it has to go and end on a freaking cliffhanger. I mean, that's just twisting the knife.
Read, love, enjoy!!