Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

I resisted reading The Knife of Never Letting Go for years. This one has gotten really positive buzz all over the place. Even from crotchety Facebook "real life" friends who don't seem to like anything...ever. And from all of the reactions I've read, and from my own experience reading Ness's A Monster Calls, I was hesitant. Beyond hesitant, really. Unwilling, more like. Because I knew this book was going to hurt to read. I knew it was going to tackle tough subjects and break my heart. I knew there was a damn good chance it would make me cry and leave me reeling. 

Because Patrick Ness is acutely tuned-in to emotional triggers. I don't find him an author that is overly manipulative. Mitch Albom is manipulative and maudlin (don't ask, it's probably a post all its own). Patrick Ness simply knows how to write painfully true characters. 

That said, teen boys can be some of my least favorite characters. Their brand of whining and hard-headedness can be supremely annoying. Thus, I didn't particularly care for Knife's narrator, Todd Hewitt, in the beginning. He's kind of dense and stubborn to a fault. He's resistant and unwilling to compromise. He's insensitive at times. However, the magic in this book is that Todd's behavior is permissible and forgivable.  He's ill-informed by those around him who choose to keep secrets about his civilization's history and his own family legacy. He's misled and mistreated, scared, daunted by officially turning into a "man" at the age of 13. Ness is exceptional at writing characters who are flawed and realistic...who are thrown into exceptional, painful circumstances. Todd grows, and I loved reading it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Barnes and Noble does a much better job of summarizing this book than I could ever do...
Todd Hewitt is the only boy in [Prentisstown] 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.
So despite my doubts from early on, I fell in love with these characters. I felt for Todd as he learned his settlement's--and his world's--history. I cringed when he made bad choices, and I mentally begged him not to be so damn stubborn. I cheered for Viola for her resourcefulness and reason. I adored Todd's dog, Manchee, and his simple, loyal voice. I hated the villains: Aaron, the religious fanatic and hypocrite, the dictatorial Mayor Prentiss, and his factions. 

And I was right in my assumption that Ness would rake me over the coals. I cried and I cheered, and I was utterly swept along by the intensity of this story. I hated him at times for making me feel more than I wanted to. Sadder or madder. And I rooted for the characters in their best moments, bouncing e-mails back and forth to Heather when I was lingering near a cliffhanger or had just come through a big surprise twist.

And if it gives you any indication of how invested I was in this story, for the first time in my reading life, I sought out spoilers for one particular aspect of the plot that I thought might well kill me with anxiety. Just to prepare myself mentally and emotionally for its coming. That sounds utterly crazy, but it's true. 

Beyond my warm feelings for the characters, I admire what Ness does here in the larger sense. He's dealing with issues of information overload. There is no privacy for the residents of Prentisstown, and he thoroughly explores the power struggles that breed and multiply, and the complications that arise from a steady flow of noise and a lack of solace. It's us. It's now handled metaphorically--our noise, our lack of privacy, government intent on secrets, the withholding of information as important as that which is available for the masses. 

I read this book in two days, which for me is extremely fast, and I immediately downloaded the second book in the trilogy, The Ask and Answer. Am I emotionally prepared for it? I have no idea. But I can't wait to try and to see where we end up. 

And I have to thank Heather. She forced me to read the book, you see. I'd hummed and hawed about it for so long that she sent the e-book for my birthday in November. Heather, you're always right. 

Pub. Date: July 2009 
Publisher: Candlewick
Format: E-book
ISBN-13: 9780763645762
Source: A gift!

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