“I was born into all that, all that mess, the over-crowded swamp and the over-crowded semetary and the not-crowded-enough town, so I don’t remember nothing, don’t remember a world without Noise. My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died, of course, no surprises there. Ben and Cillian took me in, raised me. Ben says my ma was the last of the women but everyone says that about everyone’s ma. Ben may not be lying, he believes it’s true, but who knows?”
Todd is the youngest male in the settlement of Prentisstown, a town with no women left and ravaged by a disease called Noise. Not only does Noise broadcast everyone’s thoughts out loud, it also caused all the women to sicken and die. Todd was taught that Noise was caused by a germ carried by native inhabitants of the New World, a race called the Spackle. However, right before his birthday, his adoptive parents hand him a notebook written years before by his mother-a notebook that tells an entirely different story about Noise and warns against the sinister preachings of Mayor Prentiss.
The problem with Noise, of course, is that no one has any secrets. As soon as he sees the notebook, Todd must strike out through the swamps and across the countryside, in the hopes that he will be able to outrun the other men of the town. He knows they will come after him as soon as they hear his Noise and know he is trying to escape. During his flight, he meets a young woman named Viola, whose parents’ ship had crashed in the swamp. Viola had been trying to survive on her own in the hostile environment. Todd is fascinated (he has never seen a girl before!), but also terrified that he might infect her with the Noise germ. Companionship wins, and the two proceed across the New World, trying to reach the town of Haven that Todd’s mother mentioned in her notebook. They are in a desperate scramble to outrun the militia of Prentisstown men, who are convinced that Todd, as the last male in the village, is a vital part of their salvation plan. When Todd learns the truth about Noise, what happened to the women, and what the men of Prentisstown expect him to do, he will face an ethical dilemma that nothing could have prepared him for.
This is a fast-paced, post-apocalyptic story that reads like a cross between Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and M. T. Anderson’s Feed. The book explores colonization, racism, religious extremism, and the idea that just knowing about something ethically wrong, but not acting to right it, makes one complicit in the crime. Does that sound too philosophical? Don’t worry-I promise you won’t want to put this book down. Not only is it a compelling story, it is also a graphically interesting book. The Noise of different villagers is depicted with distinct fonts, and the spelling of Todd’s words and thoughts is quite phonetic, rather than conventional. Plus, if you really loved it, there are already two more out in the series, which is called Chaos Walking. The second installment is The Ask and the Answer and the final book is Monsters of Men.
This book was short-listed for the Carnegie award and was also recognized by Booklist, among others. I found it a nice change from the technology-heavy dystopian novels out there, and loved the creative presentation of the Noise. I hope you like it!
Author’s website: http://www.patrickness.com
Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Candlewick Press: Somerville, MA, 2008. 479 pp. Ages 14 and up.
If you liked the conspiracy theory part of this book, you would probably like M. T. Anderson’s Feed. For a suspenseful futuristic escape story that also explores issues of racism and colonialism, try Nancy Farmer’s The House of the Scorpion. It’s amazing!