By: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Bantam Press
Buy it here!
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.
I feel like I’m the last person on earth to read this book. I’ve had people pestering me for years on end to pick up the Chaos Walking series because it’s, apparently, going to blow my mind and it’s the best series I’ll ever read. So eventually I bowed down to their wishes and bought the entire trilogy a few months ago, and immediately started reading the first book, THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO. And I was enjoying it… for about 10 pages. And then something happened, and I’m not sure what, but I became extremely apathetic to the book. I was enjoying it to an extent, but I wasn’t really that into it. The plot for some reason seemed to be a little bit off, and I couldn’t stand the narration, and it put me into somewhat of a reading slump. I started picking up the book less and less, and by page 134 I had put the book down for what I thought might be the last time.
So I had all but given up with the book, and started reading so many other books that I loved. Then last week after I finished reading An Ember in the Ashes I decided to pick THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO up again in the hope that I might be able to get back into it. Which I did. Right away. I have no idea what led me to putting the book down the first time, but when I picked it back up months later I loved it, every page of it. I feel like, at the time when I was first reading it, I wasn’t reading it for the pleasure of reading it, I was reading it to be able to say that I had read it. So, thankfully I took a break from it and came back to it when I was in a better state to read it, because this book completely hooked me from page 134 onwards!
The book itself (as I’m sure you probably already know since this book is one of the most popular YA books ever) follows young Todd Hewitt’s story on New World, in a town called Prentisstown which is made up entirely of males, all of whose thoughts are broadcoast to the world, 24/7. Todd is the last boy in the town, and is one month from becoming a man, and the novel begins with him discovering a strangely silent patch in the town where there is no Noise, and the insane consequences which come from his discovery.
(The rest of this review will contain spoilers, so be warned if you’re planning on reading this book!)
The writing style in this book is one of the main things that has to be mentioned straight away, because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I think that it’s one of the reasons why I didn’t really connect with the book straight away, because I’d just come out of another semester of University where I read ‘high-standard’ prose (a label which I absolutely detest using and which I don’t agree with in the slightest), so reading such an unusual style of prose was pretty jarring. But when I picked the book up again and started to really think about the writing style that I realised how interesting it was. Todd’s narrative is written entirely in the accent and dialect of Prentisstown, which is evident from the opening line, “The first thing you find out when your dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.“
Did I mention that all the animals in this book can talk? Because Todd has a pet dog called Manchee who talks, and he’s pretty much my new favourite book character of all time. (Okay, well, not really, Ruby Daly is still always going to be my favourite, but Manchee got pretty close.) So you can probably understand just how much iT TORE MY HEART OUT AND STOMPED ALL OVER AND AND JUST BROKE ME INTO SO MANY DISTRAUGHT LITTLE PIECES when he died. Seriously, that scene was just awful, awful to read. “Todd? Todd?” Ugh, I can’t, it’s painful again!
This book very heavily leans on the coming of age trope often found in YA novels, but it’s taken to a whole new level in this book with the fact that boys literally become of age on their thirteenth birthday. Todd spends most of the novel counting down the days until he becomes a man, and it’s not until very close to the end when Ben tells him that he’s already a man, no matter what the rules say. Todd’s growth in this first book is really something great to read. He grows up and matures to the world quickly enough, yet in a fairly natural way. When he first encounters Viola and she doesn’t talk he is extremely agitated about it and flies off the handle yelling at her to talk, but goes on to develop a really great friendship with her, risking his life to save her more than once. In mentioning Viola, then, I can’t possibly write this review without mentioning some of the other side-characters, because this book is filled with so many different kinds of people. Viola and Manchee (the dog, remember I told you about him? *cries*) are with Todd for most of the novel as they set off in search of Haven, one of the other settlements on New World, and they are both just so enjoyable to read. Viola is the first female that Todd ever encounters, and she really helps him to grow as a character. Manchee is Todd’s dog, and it’s through him that Todd really learns of loyalty. There are somewhat two main antagonists of this book, firstly Mayor Prentiss of Prentisstown, who comes after Todd with an army after Todd discovers some secrets that he shouldn’t have learned, and there’s Aaron, who seems to want to kill Todd for no reason. We learn at the end of the book that Aaron never wanted to kill Todd, but in fact wanted Todd to kill him and officially make Todd a man. To be quite honest, Aaron was a really frightening character in a lot of ways. Another of the side-characters was Ben, one of the two men who raised Todd after the men of Prentisstown killed the women, who sends Todd away to save his life before being reunited with him for too short a time. Ben is the caring father-figure that it is so hard to see bad things happen to, as it’s clear that he only wants the best for Todd, and wants to see him out of harm. Every one of these characters are written in such unique and interesting ways that beautifully and terrifyingly craft the world to what it is.
The plot, while it gets a little convoluted at times, is one of the most original and compelling plots I’ve read in a long time. On this New World, there are settlements everywhere, and people are still flooding into the world every year or so. As Todd has grown up, he’s believed that his town is the only town on the planet, and that the Noise (everyone’s thoughts being broadcast) is a result of a virus caused by Spackle, an alien race on the planet who were wiped out in a war with the settlers years before Todd was born. As the novel goes on and Todd and Viola trek towards Haven, we learn so much about the world, and about the horrifying truths of Prentisstown. I can’t praise the originality of the plot enough, and have no idea where it’s going to go in the rest of the series. Are there more secrets that we still don’t know about? I guess I’ll have to wait and see!
I think another reason why I struggled to really get into this book to begin with was the fact that it’s quite difficult to understand what genre the book is at the beginning, but by the time you begin to learn about New World, everything beyond Prentisstown and everything contributing to the world presented in the novel, the complex genre becomes extremely clear, and adds to the mystery and enjoyment of the novel as a whole! But in the end, there aren’t many negative things I can say about this novel that I haven’t touched on by explaining why I wasn’t hooked immediately. And even then, the things that I didn’t enjoy were things that I really grew to love when I finally read the book with the attitude that I should have all along. Perhaps, if I’m really scraping the barrel and looking for things to complain about, I could say that Aaron’s frequent appearances and ‘Oooooh, I’m gonna get you kids I am’ attitude got a little repetitive. Maybe sometimes the narrative was difficult to understand. But those are me really looking for something. Yet still I only gave this book a 4.5/5, because I don’t want to just give away my 5 star rating on this series quite yet. I’m hoping that Books 2 & 3 will bounce off of the massive cliffhanger from this book and be even better than THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO was. (However, I won’t be reading THE ASK AND THE ANSWER right away, so don’t be expecting a review on that for a while. I may even wait until after I’ve read MONSTERS OF MEN before I review that and just do a series review, so it’ll be a month or two at least!)
I went through an insane amount with this book. From really failing to connect with it at first, putting it down and genuinely never thinking I’d pick it up again, to deciding to go for it one last time and loving every page in the end. I’m really glad that I was pestered into buying this book, and I’m really glad that in the end I knew that I’d started reading it at the wrong time and knew that it was the right time to try it again. It’s definitely one of my top three books of the year so far, and I can’t wait to get on with the series.