Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (@Patrick_Ness)

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.

The Plot

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.

My Thoughts 

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.

Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass (@kieracass @harperteen)

I knew I wanted to read The Selection by Kiera Cass the moment I saw the pretty, girly, fluffy cover. I mean seriously, how gorgeous is that? I heard it was a dystopian and would appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, but I also heard that it was solely a romance, with none of the crazy violent and suspenseful elements. And I wondered how on earth this book was appealing to fans of The Hunger Games if you took all that stuff out of the book.

So after finishing The Maze Runner, which gave me heart palpitations for a day, I figured The Selection would be a nice change of pace for me to calm down and rediscover happiness in the world.

Sometimes when you read nothing but dark and scary dystopians for two weeks, you need to rediscover happiness.

And let me tell you, this was just what the doctor ordered.

The Plot

America Singer is talented, poor, and in love. She is a Five in the caste system of Illéa, where Ones are royalty and Eights are pretty much on par with dirt and slugs. Her family of artists and musicians struggles to scrape by, having barely enough food and not much else. Her boyfriend, Aspen, is a Six, born into the serving class, and in even more dire circumstances than America. Their relationship is forbidden by law, so it must be kept secret, but they are happy.

However, all that changes when notices go out all over the kingdom that Prince Maxon is looking for a bride, and she will be picked via the Selection. All eligible girls may apply. 35 will be picked to go to the palace and compete for Prince Maxon’s hand. The families of the girls in the competition will be well compensated for their service to the monarchy.

America doesn’t want to apply, regardless of the incentive of extra food or her mother’s persistent nagging. But when Aspen tells her that he also wants her to apply, she finally gives in, knowing the odds are heavily stacked against her.

But against all odds, she is picked to participate in the Selection. And although she is determined not to fall for Maxon, she goes to the palace to compete, knowing each week she remains in the competition is another week of food on her family’s table. And once she meets Maxon, nothing is the way she thought it would be.

My Thoughts

This book was just fun. I really don’t understand the constant comparisons to The Hunger Games. Yes, they’re both dystopian, but The Selection is VASTLY different from The Hunger Games. America and Katniss are nothing alike, except that they’re both kind of socially awkward. There is no violence (except for a subplot involving rebels that keep attacking the castle for no reason the monarchy can understand). The families in the lower castes may go hungry, but the world doesn’t feel nearly as impoverished and depressing as the Districts of Panem. And while the losers of the Hunger Games die, the losers of the Selection go home to wed prominent businessmen and politicians.

So yeah. Not the same thing.

No, the pop culture phenomenon The Selection most closely resembles is The Bachelor. A bunch of pretty girls trying to win the hand/money (or in this case, crown) of a studly guy. There’s even camera crews and a weekly televised broadcast.

But whereas I can’t stand The Bachelor, I absolutely LOVED The Selection.

Beyond just the abundant prettiness (and there WAS abundant prettiness), this book just gave me happy fluttery feelings in my tummy. America was fun and feisty. Sometimes a bit dense, yes, but that’s when I had to remind myself (as I have to do often in YA books featuring female protagonists) that she is a teenage girl, and so it makes sense for her to be a bit dense.

Prince Maxon was sweet and charming and I’ve got to say, I know the whole point of the book was that America has two viable options in Aspen vs. Maxon, but I am Team Maxon all the way [I can’t believe I just said that]. Aspen is stoic and intense and responsible and B-O-R-I-N-G. Granted, we don’t have nearly as much time to get to know him as Maxon, and most of our perception of him is through America’s lovesick and swoony eyes, so I will try not to be too disappointed if she runs back to him in Book 2. But I sincerely hope that Maxon is the victor.

There is a brief attempt to explain how the country of Illéa came to be, although the caste systems are never explained. Maybe in Book 2? I found the explanation reasonable enough. I know there are others out there saying they didn’t buy or understand it, but in the context of the story, and especially since America is narrating in first person and she herself doesn’t fully understand it all, I thought it was fine.

And while there’s very little action or nail-biting suspense in this book (unless you consider a will-they-or-won’t-they romance nail-biting suspense), I still found myself completely enthralled in the beauty of the Palace, the developing relationship between America and Maxon, and the tentative friendships between the girls in the Selection.

The only thing I wasn’t a fan of was the ending. I wanted there to be MORE. Even though I knew it was going to end without resolving a lot of things (since my friend who loaned me the book warned me of as much), I was still sad and surprised when I hit the last page and still had questions. There’s a lot of subplots (and main plots) left hanging at the end. Consider yourself warned.

I think The Selection isn’t so much for Hunger Games fans (although I am a Hunger Games fan) as it is for fans of stories like The Princess Diaries or anything by Jane Austen. Or, obviously, fans of The Bachelor. It’s a fun, sweet, and highly entertaining romance, and the future dystopian setting adds some interest and uniqueness. I enjoyed it immensely.

Content guide: Contains mentions of sex, mild amorous activity, mentions of violence.

Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner (@jamesdashner)

I checked out The Maze Runner from the library, having no real idea what it was about other than it was another YA dystopian, and I’d heard it was really good. And people…”really good” just does not do this book justice.

The Plot

Thomas wakes up trapped in a dark box, with no recollection of his past, his identity (other than his name), or his purpose. Soon, the Box is opened by a group of teenage boys he doesn’t recognize, and Thomas emerges from the Box into a bizarre world which is surrounded by huge concrete walls on all sides. No one can tell him who he is or why he is there, because they all started in the Box too.

The boys tell him that the he is in the Glade. And outside the Glade, through the huge doors in the concrete walls, lies the Maze. They have formed a small yet functional society within the Glade, surviving until the time when one of them can find a way out. And the only way they can conceive of to escape is to solve the Maze.

Every day, the doors open. The Runners go out, searching for an exit. Every night, the Runners return, the doors close, and terrifying monsters prowl the corridors of the Maze. To be trapped in the Maze at night is to guarantee a horrific death.

The Runners have been searching for an exit from the Maze for years, but have never found a solution. But Thomas feels an inexplicable pull to become a Runner. And although he can’t explain why, he thinks he can solve the Maze.

My Thoughts

Holy cow, people. This book was insane. I was completely riveted from page 1, something that rarely happens. Even with books I completely adore, it normally takes me a chapter or two to immerse myself in the world of the book. But with The Maze Runner, I was in that Box with Thomas. I was confused and uncomfortable and determined to make sense of the situation.

As the book went on, I, like Thomas, was completely perplexed and frustrated by the mystery of the Maze and why they were trapped in the Glade. But James Dashner had an uncanny ability to predict what I was going to ask, and then have Thomas ask that very question. For example, when they’re explaining that getting trapped in the Maze at night is a death sentence, I wondered if they’d attempted climbing the walls. Then Thomas asks, “Why don’t you just climb the walls?” So although I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how they were going to escape the Maze or why we were there, I was frustrated with the characters instead of at the characters.

The pacing of this book was excellent. While the action doesn’t really kick up until about 1/3 of the way into the book, I still felt my adrenaline pumping right away just because of the strangeness of the situation. There was suspense simply in not knowing why any of this was happening. Then, once Thomas gets his bearings a bit better, the real action picked up. So basically, I felt like I was having heart palpitations for the majority of this book. In a good way.

The characters were also well developed. While not every Glader was fully fleshed-out, the main ones all had their own personalities and layers. I felt like I knew these kids, and I found myself cheering for some and rolling my eyes with Thomas at others.

Even the dialogue, which I sometimes find really annoying in sci-fi/dystopian books when the author feels the need to throw in a bunch of made-up “future” slang, somehow felt natural in this book. Maybe it’s because Thomas draws attention to it almost immediately, saying it sounds weird and foreign. Since it’s acknowledged in the book, I accepted it and moved on. Eventually, it began to sound natural, to me and to Thomas.

Bottom line: I thought this book was amazing. It’s not for everyone. It’s got an extremely high “weird” factor. And the suspense that kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire book may not be what others are looking for. But for me, I completely and totally adored this book. I couldn’t put it down (literally. I read the whole thing in a day, something I was not planning on doing). It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read. My only complaint is that my library doesn’t have Book 2 available RIGHT NOW.

Content Guide: Contains violence and death of children, constant feelings of suspense and peril.


Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (@V_Rossibooks @harperteen)


I’ve been pretty psyched to read Under the Never Sky since I saw the cover several months ago. I mean, that is a pretty sweet cover, right? Plus, it’s a sci-fi dystopian, which is a mash-up of two of my favorite genres (and if you read my spotlight over on Michelle Muto‘s blog, you know I like genre mash-ups. Oh also, I was spotlighted on Michelle Muto’s blog! How cool is that?) So what better book to kick off my two-week dystopiaganza?

Dystopiarama? Dystopiapalooza? Hm. I may have to work on that.

The Plot

Aria has lived all her life in the pod of Reverie among the Dwellers, safe from the Aether storms and deadly toxins in the Earth’s atmosphere. In Reverie, every entertainment, risk, and sensation takes place in the virtual Realms, an experience that proclaims itself “Better than Real.”

However, when Aria takes part in what is supposed to be harmless mischief, outside the safety of the Realms, everything goes wrong, and her night of fun ends in catastrophe. Lives are lost, lies are told, and before Aria knows what is going on, she finds herself exiled to the world outside the pods. The Death Shop.

Perry has lived his life in the shadow of his brother, Blood Lord of one of the many tribes that inhabits the treacherous lands outside the pods. He is a Scire, gifted with extraordinarily heightened senses of smell and sight, and feels that his tribe will suffer under his brother’s leadership. The only thing that has kept him from challenging his brother for the leadership role is his love for his brother’s small son, Talon.

But when Talon is kidnapped by Dwellers, Perry takes the blame and is forced to abandon his tribe.

Soon, Perry and Aria find themselves thrown together, forced to form a grudging alliance, each of them possessing something the other desperately needs. But their personal differences, the search for Talon, and the proof of Aria’s innocence is overshadowed by their continuous fight to simply survive.

My Thoughts

First of all, I had a really hard time just writing the summary of the plot. This world is complex, and although I love the thought that went into it and all its intricacies, I found the story initially kind of hard to settle into. There’s a lot that happens very early on in the story, and I had to struggle to get my bearings. But once I got my feet under me (about halfway through my lovely synopsis up above), I really enjoyed the story.

I think this book is actually only loosely a dystopian. It’s really much more sci-fi, with a few dystopian elements thrown in almost as an afterthought. Truthfully, if not for random mentions of pieces of Earth’s history (a Matisse painting, a National Geographic magazine) sprinkled in sporadically, this entire story could easily have taken place on an alien planet. The atmospheric conditions are so different from what we currently know, and humans have changed so much, that the setting isn’t really recognizable as Earth. However, the back story of how the Earth came to be this way is never explained (there are some vague mentions of what happened before and after “Unity,” but the book never explain what this was), so maybe if it is revealed in the sequel(s), it will all make more sense.

I enjoyed Aria’s character. She wasn’t a meek and klutzy damsel in distress like so many YA heroines. (She was, of course, freakishly beautiful, BUT that is explained as a product of genetic engineering, and therefore forgivable. In Aria’s words, in Reverie, “everyone looks like this.” Ooh, deja vu!) She had her moments of forehead-slapping idiocy, but she also learned and grew, realized when her stubbornness was stupid, and was someone I could root for.

I liked Perry even more, although at the beginning I kind of wanted to punch him, what with all the “my brother’s in charge but it really should be me” nonsense. Okay, fine, it should be you, but stop acting like your only two choices are killing your brother or exile. There’s such a thing as humility, dude.

But again, that was just in the beginning. Once he was out on his own and with Aria, I liked him much more. And like Aria, he also grew, which I appreciated. Too often, the worldly male character in a book serves only as a teacher for the naive female character. But while Perry did teach Aria a number of things (including how to not pick poison berries, a lesson Peeta could have used), he also learns a great deal himself.

I enjoyed the pacing and the development of the plot, and the writing was absorbing, once I got used to it. I loved that the romance in the book developed slowly and naturally. The only complaint I had was that I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending. A lot of questions go unanswered. Since this is book one of a trilogy, I’ll forgive it. But I was hoping at least a little more would be wrapped up in the first book.

Overall, I thought this was an intriguing story with engaging characters, and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Content guide: Contains violence, references to cannibalism, and brief sexual situations. 

Teaser Tuesday (May 22): Under the Never Sky

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser today comes from Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.

“‘Please! I didn’t do anything!’

A Guardian came up behind her. She caught a glimpse of him as his foot crashed into the small of her back, and then she was falling through the air.”

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