I picked up The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness because some poor misinformed soul somewhere had labeled it a dystopian, and I was endeavoring to read ALL THE DYSTOPIANS for Dystopiaganza (P.S. If you would like to read the guest post that prompted all the research, it’s posted here). But as far as I understand the definition of a dystopian, this is not one. Or it is, but only by the slimmest margin. But by the time I figured this out, I was already well into it, and I wanted to finish.
I’m not going to lie. This book wreaked havoc with my emotions. Partly because of the writing style. Partly because of the premise. Partly because it was just so different from any other book I’ve ever read. And partly because it made me feel like throwing things. And then the end…
Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it. Just let me say, there’s a reason this book was in my Top 10 Jaw-Dropping Endings post.
The urge to throw things was never quite so strong. Fortunately, I was in bed next to my sleeping husband, so I didn’t throw it. Which is good, because it was a borrowed copy, and I had promised my friend I wouldn’t so much as dogear a page, much less hurl the book against the wall.
So. Let’s get down to it.
Todd Hewitt lives in Prentisstown with his guardians, Ben and Cillian, and his dog, Manchee. But life in New World is different from what we know. First, there is the Noise. All the men and animals on New World project their thoughts involuntarily to all those around them. Second, whatever infected the men and animals with the Noise has killed all the women. So the men and Todd (the last remaining boy in Prentisstown) live their lives surrounded by Noise, knowing that without any women, they will eventually die out and Prentisstown will become a ghost town.
Todd was the last child born in Prentisstown, so all he has ever known is a womanless and Noisy life. He’s a month away from his 13th birthday, when he will become a man, and looks forward to no longer being the only boy in town. But one day, he and Manchee discover something disturbing in the swamp – an area in the bushes with no Noise.
Todd has never known any area to be completely absent of Noise, so he tells Ben and Cillian about it, thinking it is a curiosity. But much to Todd’s surprise, Ben and Cillian are afraid, and immediately start packing up so that Todd and Manchee can flee Prentisstown. Confused and hurt, Todd reluctantly leaves the only family he has ever known behind, to venture out into the world beyond Prentisstown. And what Todd and Manchee discover will change everything.
But even as Todd and Manchee search for answers, danger follows them. For the men of Prentisstown are not willing to let Todd go so easily.
The first thing that hit me about this book was the writing style. It takes some getting used to. Todd is the narrator, and he is uneducated and mostly illiterate, so the narrative is full of improper grammar and syntax, misspellings, and run-on sentences galore. If that’s going to bother you, this is not the book for you, because it doesn’t improve a bit throughout the entire book. It’s not like Todd goes to college while trekking through the swamp.
As for Todd, he also had to grow on me a bit. I had to keep in mind that he was a 13-year-old boy (although he is about to turn 13 in Prentisstown, he says that a New World year is 13 months, which means that in our time, Todd is nearly 14), and therefore he wasn’t going to be the wisest or quickest or most sensitive character. He’s fairly bull-headed and slow on the uptake in the beginning, plus his treatment of Manchee is horrid. But after they flee Prentisstown, Todd begins to mature and grow, and his relationship with Manchee actually became one of my favorite parts of the book.
Speaking of Manchee, he quickly became one of my favorite literary animal characters. Even with the limited vocabulary and intellect of a dog, Manchee was fiercely loyal and protective of Todd, and I found him incredibly endearing.
Then we get to the villains. And there are a lot of villains. One in particular, Aaron, is so freakishly creepy that I’m surprised I didn’t have nightmares about him. The only complaint I have (because really, a super-creepy villain is not a complaint for me) is that he’s still supposed to be human, even though he’s crazy and evil and lives on an alien world. And several of the things Aaron manages to pull off throughout the course of the book seem decidedly inhuman.
Maybe he was a Cylon. Maybe that’s a twist in the next book. I don’t know. I haven’t read it yet.
As for the plot in this book, the action and suspense never lets up. Todd barely has a moment’s peace from the moment he flees Prentisstown until the end of the book. The danger is constant and terrifying. And with each twist and turn of the plot, the situation just seems to become more dire and bleak. A constant theme running through the book is that hope is necessary for survival, but it seems that every time Todd scrapes together a sliver of hope, it is snatched away from him and replaced with heartbreak and horror.
It’s kind of hard to deal with.
But. Todd was able to rally just enough each time for me to want to keep reading. And interspersed in this incredibly dark story were moments of innocent joy and humor that would pop up at completely unexpected times.
And then there was that ending. Ugh. Don’t start this book if you need things resolved by the end. It doesn’t happen.
So now I have many feelings about this book. I loved the story, loved Todd and Manchee, loved the incredibly unique world that Patrick Ness created. But it also made me feel so sad and frustrated and disappointed so many times — not because the book was disappointing, but because Todd was disappointed. It’s hard to mesh all those feelings together into a coherent opinion.
Overall, I would say that The Knife of Never Letting Go is a different type of Young Adult book; it’s darker, it’s scarier, and it’s grittier than most of the YA sci-fi out there. It will not appeal to you if you’re squeamish about violence or yearn for neat and happy endings. But it features wonderfully developed characters in a brilliant new world (no pun untended) that I’m excited to keep exploring — even if it drives me crazy.
Content Guide: Contains extensive violence and suspense, profanity, and some very upsetting deaths.