The Knife of Never Letting Go
Candlewick, 2008 496 pgs.
Chaos Walking #1
Imagine a world where we can read each other's thoughts, including those of animals. Todd Hewitt is about to turn thirteen-years-old and become a man, a standard determined by Pretisstown, a frontier style settlement on a distant planet. Todd lives with his two male guardians and hyper dog, Manchee in a town alone on a planet where all the women have died of a virus and the men constantly produce "noise", thoughts that can be heard. Todd is the last boy in his village awaiting the all important birthday, when, to his surprise, he stumbles upon a girl hidden in an abandoned town formally occupied by now extinct aliens. When the men of the settlement read Todd's mind and see his discovery, Todd is in danger. His guardians force him to run away into the swamp, all while the men of the village chase him. He brings his dog, a backpack filled with supplies and, eventually, teams up with the girl, Viola, and they run away together. Surprises await Todd as he discovers that basically all he knows about the world is a lie. There are other towns on the planet, the aliens aren't really extinct, and the women haven't all died of a virus. More surprises greet him at every turn. Todd, Viola, and Manchee eventually land in another settlement, where their welcome is less than gracious. Why do people hate the residents of Prentisstown? What is so significant about Todd's thirteenth birthday? What really happened to the women of the town? What became of Todd's guardians? These and other questions are answered as Todd and Viola run head-long into one dangerous situation after another, all while being chased by Aaron, a deranged Pretisstown preacher, determined to kill the two young people.
This book always seemed too dark and scary for me, so I put off reading it. After consistently seeing it on recommended lists I finally cracked into it. The Knife of Never Letting Go is not your typical dystopian teenage fiction. Its darker that most with more character development. Despite its's long length the book moves along at a break-neck speed, making it a great recommendation for reluctant readers. Boys, especially, will devour this book, but girls will like it too. Its extremely original with so many plot twists I was captivated from start to finish. I love the idea of hearing animal thoughts, although, according to Ness, they really don't have much to say. The "noise" constantly flowing from the men seems to me to be a reflection of the constant noise of our society from the media and electronics. Ness also has grim messages about human nature, mob mentality, and the lengths people will go in order to survive. I was surprised at how many times the preacher character, Aaron, seemed dead, only to show up again seventy-five pages later, still crazy and anger, but with more missing body parts. Todd and Viola also seemed to "take a licking, but keep on ticking" to an absurd degree. They appear to be dead countless times, only to shake it off and keep on running. Some characters do die and there are truly sad and hopeless moments. Although many plot points are resolved, the book ends with a cliff-hanger (surprise: one of the characters is in mortal danger). With two more volumes in the trilogy, I'm willing to bet that the character survives. The Knife of Never Letting Go is being developed into a movie and is being toted as the next "Hunger Games", so librarians serving teens should be aware of it and teens who like dystopian fiction should read it before it disappears from library shelves.