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Book Review: Knife of Never Letting Go

Is it just me or does life seem a little hollow without another Hunger Games book in the future?  Runners talk about the period after running a marathon as the post-race blues.  The big goal has been reached.  Now what?  I can sympathize.  Since finishing Mockingjay I’ve been suffering post Hunger Games blues.  Runners have lots of ways they try to shake off the blues and get back to training.  My coping mechanism has been to gobble up any post-apocalyptic, dystopian book I can get my hands on.  I haven’t found anything that can compare to the Hunger Games.  Some are just downright silly, but I’ve managed to find a few that are worth the effort.

My favorite that I’ve read recently is The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.  It is the first of the Chaos Walking trilogy.   The final book, Monsters of Men, was just released in September.

Todd Hewitt is the youngest boy(on the cusp of manhood) in Prentisstown, a nightmare of a place where all of the women have died and the thoughts of men and animals are audible as what they refer to as “noise” which is cleverly represented as overlapping text in scratchy, scrawling fonts.  Todd’s faithful companion is his dog, Manchee, who is one of my new favorite characters.  His first dialogue in the book, “Need a poo, Todd.”  Brilliant.  He adds several moments of levity in an otherwise very dark, and bleak book.

While searching a swamp for food Todd discovers a “hole” in the noise.  There is a creature hiding out there in the swamp.  A creature with no noise.  For Todd, who has lived all his life amid the swirling chaos of others thoughts, this gap in the noise is dramatic.  The source of this gap is a young female.  A creature which Todd has never met.  Sounds like me in high school.  Anyway,  when Todd tells his adoptive parents about the hole in the noise, they freak out and tell him he must immediately leave Prentisstown.  Now the action heats up.  Aaron, the crazed preacher of the town church, begins chasing Todd.  Todd and the girl make their escape with Aaron on their heels.  Aaron is a crazed lunatic.  His relentless pursuit reminds me of the Judge Holden character from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  He pops up everywhere and is creepier every time.

What I really love about this book is how it turns YA novel convention on its head.  We’re so used to the characters in YA books having to learn about themselves in order to come of age.  Not so, in this one.  Todd has to unlearn everything he’s learned about himself to make a new beginning.

Another great thing about this book is the originality with which the story is told.  I’ve already mentioned the scrawling text that represents “the noise” of the characters.  Similarly the author put a lot of thought on how language would change among an isolated population.  The language in the book is very different from our everyday speech.  It reminds me of another dystopian novel, Riddley Walker.  In that book the language has evolved so much that, at times, it is difficult to recognize it as English.  The Knife of Never Letting Go isn’t quite that level, but it is obvious that the author thought about how isolation might change language.  This effect is never strained and gives an authenticity to the world that is created in the book.

If you’re like me and you’re tired of waiting for something that will never come (another Hunger Games) pick up The Knife of Never Letting Go.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.  And, you’ll get to spend some time with Manchee.

–Joel Bruns

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Joel Bruns

I am a librarian who lives and works in Indiana. I love all outdoor activities (running, cycling, skiing, kayaking...).

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  1. Maria Kramer Maria Kramer

    Thank you so much for reviewing this book! This series is so well-written and morally complex. I love the emotional depth in these books, as well as the action. I’m gonna shock some people when I say it, but this series is better than the Hunger Games, IMO. And the way the series ends! Best trilogy ending ever. You have to read it!!

  2. […] Knife of Never Letting Go (reviewed here), The Ask and the Answer (2009 Best Books for Young Adults), and Monsters of Men by Patrick […]

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