By February 25, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

Voices in Your Head

knife-of-never-letting-goDo you have the urge to gossip? If you could have the power of mental telepathy, would you take it? What if you heard not just select voices at select times, but everybody’s thoughts, all the time? And what if everyone else could hear your thoughts, too?  As superpowers go, this sounds pretty miserable, but this noisy condition is normal for young Todd Hewitt in Patrick Ness’s superb young adult novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go. Todd can even hear the thoughts of animals (though they aren’t especially articulate).

Todd has grown up on a farm in a small colony (on another planet), believing that soon after his parents’ colony landed, war began with the native species, the Spackle. Before humans wiped them out, the Spackle released a virus that killed the women and left men with the ability to hear the thoughts of anyone within reasonable distance. Todd’s mother was the last woman to die, and he’s the youngest boy in Prentisstown, the town of men that he believes is the only settlement on his planet.  As the novel opens, Todd’s on the verge of the ceremony that will make him the last man in Prentisstown.

But when Todd and his dog Manchee discover something strange in the Noise, a spot of actual silence outside of town, everything changes quickly. The source of the silence proves that something Todd has been told is a lie, and as he soon discovers, most of the rest of his assumptions are also wrong. That knowledge puts him in danger, and he’s soon on the run with a new companion, chased by the town’s sheriff, it’s evil mayor, and a nasty preacher.

While The Knife of Never Letting Go is a fast-reading adventure tale, it’s much more than that. Ness builds marvelous characters, particular Todd, who develops from a feckless boy into a sadder, wiser, admirable young man over the course of the novel. He uses his science fantasy scenario to explore questions of privacy, morality, duty, and gender relations–enough of these questions that your group will have no trouble filling an evening with interesting conversation. The book could also be read on an allegorical level, drawing interesting comparisons to biblical stories or other classical works. It’s full of tragic events, understandable mistakes, and moments of bravery–a real emotional roller coaster. Although this is a young adult novel, it’s got enough powerful substance to move an adult reader, even one who’s normally on the stoic side.

This is the first of a trilogy, but Ness resolves many of the major plot threads in this work, so readers shouldn’t feel too distraught if they choose not to go on to The Ask and the Answer, the second book in Ness’s Chaos Walking series. If they’re at all like me, they’ll have a hard time staying away.



About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

1 Comment on "Voices in Your Head"

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  1.' Anna says:

    I was thrilled and awed by this book. We have the sequel in my library but I’m scared to start it — I can’t imagine where it will go, and the ending of The Knife of Never Letting Go was so distressing (just when you thought they were safe . . . ). The gender issues alone are worth the read, but it’s a hard book emotionally, and hard sell to YAs looking for something exciting but less troubling.

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