Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Walker Books
Publishing Date: 2008
Number of Pages: 479
Genre: Dystopian, Young Adult, Contemporary
Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in a constant, overwhelming, never-ending Noise. There is no privacy. There are no secrets.
Then, just one month away from the birthday that will make Todd Hewitt a man, he unexpectedly stumbles on a spot of complete silence. Which is impossible.
Before I took on list challenges, Patrick Ness was a relatively unknown author to me (just like Alice Walker, Yasunari Kawabata, Kazuo Ishiguro, Milan Kundera, and basically everyone). Some of his books were part of the must-read books. However, my interest got piqued only when I saw the trailer for A Monster Calls, a movie based on his book of the same title. It got me interested in Ness’ writings that I resolved to purchase one of his works one of these days.
That opportunity presented itself on one of my trips to the bookstore. Some of his titles were being sold, including A Monster Calls. However, instead of A Monster Calls, I opted to purchase The Knife of Never Letting Go even though I had no iota on what it was about. It was the synopsis that got me curious about the book over A Monster Calls. Moreover, the fact that it won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize is another point in its favor.
Unfortunately, the book got stuck in my pile of unread books until I decided to include it in my 2017 Top 20 Books to Read. In my aim of crossing out these books on my list, I finally allotted the time to read The Knife of Letting Go. Here are my thoughts.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book of the Chaos Walking Trilogy. This is something that I wasn’t aware of until I began reading the book. I have surmised that dystopian novels like to come in threes like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy and Veronica Roth’s Divergent Trilogy. I really have no iota on why authors tend to write about dystopian societies in threes but dystopian novels seem to be in vogue nowadays.
The story is set in fictional Prentisstown during a period when the world was divided into the New World and the Old World. Prentisstown, headed by Mayor Prentiss, is somehow different from the other towns. The residents of the town are purely male and they have an uncanny ability of hearing each other’s thoughts. They can also hear the thoughts of animals. As a result, it isolated itself from the rest of the New World to avoid the noises in Haven, the center of the New World.
A month before his birthday, Todd Hewitt, on one of his excursions on the swamp lands, encountered something that is rare in his town, a spot of total silence. Upon experiencing this “silence”, he immediately conveyed it to his foster parents, Ben and Cillian. This revelation immediately set off the narrative into a tailspin and into a quicker pace. In light of the revelation, Todd was forced to leave the town immediately against his will.
It was supposed to be another mundane day in Prentisstown, where the flow of everything is stagnant. However, before Todd can leave, the entire town invaded their farm. Clueless, Todd left with nothing but a bag, a knife, and a book which holds the key to the Todd’s current situation. He returned to the swamp, in the company of his talking dog, Manchee. There, he encountered the reason for the silence he experienced earlier in the day, a young lady, Viola. Todd, Manchee and Viola are wrapped in an adventure they never thought they would find themselves in.
The book interestingly shares similar attributes with its contemporaries, the Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies. The first point of similarity is that they all have a pair of teenage boy and girl as main characters. The main characters have humble beginnings and only got caught up in the crossfire after unpleasant events have began unfolding. From innocence, they quickly matured as the story began progressing. It is also of note that one or both of the main characters is orphaned by at least one parent.
All three trilogies also share isolated settings with societies that are governed by tyrannical rulers. The President Snow of Prentisstown is Mayor Prentiss. In all these societies, chaos, discord and disagreements reign as the influential try to wrest control over their respective countries. It was also from chaos and discord that the present-day societies were formed. It is uncanny how all these trilogies depict future societies as governed by disagreements amidst battles for survival.
The Knife of Never Letting Go shares the same attributes with contemporary dystopian works but is an entirely different story. It is a fast-paced narrative that is comparable to Dan Brown in pacing. This is one book you don’t want to put down once you began reading it. You just want to devour it because you don’t want to be kept in suspense. It keep you looking forward to what will happen next and how things will unfold. This is a book that will really keep you engaged from the start to end.
It was towards the end when things begun partly unraveling. Todd finally learns why he has to run away from Prentisstown. The book that Ben gave him before leaving Prentisstown, symbolically his mom’s journal, drew out the gruesome history of their town. Towards the end, I got to learn, just as Todd got too learn, about the real reason why there are no women in Prentisstown.
Aside from the pacing and the tenterhook, the one thing that kept me hooked until the end are the characters, most especially Manchee. Manchee is definitely one of the most memorable characters I have encountered. It is my firm belief that in order for young adult books to succeed, it is crucial to have characters readers can relate to. I have to commend Patrick Ness for giving me that satisfaction.
At first, I thought it was just a simple story of a boy and girl’s adventure but it was beyond that. Todd and Viola’s adventures and misadventures, escaping from those who chase them, belie the darker themes that were subtly highlighted in the book. These darker themes include sexism, racism, slavery and colonial mentality. The book makes you ponder as you dig deeper into it.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a book that I really enjoyed, both because of the story telling and the pace. This is a book that I greatly recommend for readers, not because it shares the same attributes as its contemporary dystopian stories but because it is unique and stands on its own. If you liked Hunger Games and Divergent, you’ll definitely like The Knife of Letting Go. As I am writing this book review, I am already shaking in anticipation for the second and third books which I have yet to avail copies of. In the meantime, I’ll be crossing out more books listed in my 2017 Top 20 Books to Read.
About the Author
Patrick Ness is a British-American author who was born on October 17, 1971 in Virginia, USA. His father was a lieutenant, hence, the reason why Patrick and his family moved from one state to another. For his college studies, he moved to Los Angeles to take English Literature at the University of Southern California.
Post-college, he first worked as a corporate writer for a cable company. His first story was published in Genre magazine in 1997 while his first novel, The Crash of Hennington was published in 2003. However, it wasn’t until his first young adult fiction, The Knife of Letting Go that his works gained recognition. The book won numerous awards in the UK. His succeeding works, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men, and A Monster Calls won even more awards.
Before taking on full-time writing, he taught creative writing at Oxford University and has written and reviewed for numerous publications. He is currently living in London.