The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“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!

Happy Reading!

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!

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

“You aren’t allowed out of the graveyard…because it’s only in the graveyard that we can keep you safe.  This is where you live and this is where those who love you can be found.  Outside would not be safe for you.  Not yet.”

In the dark of night, a man named Jack waits in the shadows and efficiently kills an entire family–all but the toddler, who had crept out of his crib during the night.  The man desperately needs to kill the toddler; his fate rests on the death of the boy.  However, the little one wanders away into the night, and into a nearby graveyard.  When the spirits of his parents cry out to the ghosts of the cemetery and beg for them to protect him, they accept.  Thus, Nobody Owens becomes a ward of the graveyard.

He’s raised by ghosts and learns their ways, including feats like Dreamwalking and Fading.  They bring him books and food from the outside world, and warn him (just like normal parents) not to talk to people he doesn’t know.  See, the man who killed his family is still alive and hunting for him.  He’s only safe within the confines of the graveyard.

The story proceeds in episodes; each one can stand alone as a great short story, but they can also be woven together into a captivating narrative.  While reading it, I kept thinking that the tone of the book reminded me a little of Eva Ibbotson, with a playful eye towards subjects like witchcraft, and a little like Audrey Niffenegger, with her stories about crumbly, mossy graveyards.  It’s a really distinct voice; a little dry humor mixed with some elements of the underworld.  Love it, love it! I can’t wait to share this book.

I learned that Gaiman was inspired by his own son, as he pedaled his tricycle around the cemetery.  He said he started writing chapter four, and that the rest of the story took almost a decade to be born.  I really think born is the right word here, too, because while you’re reading, you are coming across all of these sort of unrelated-seeming tales, and then they all wind together into this perfect ending.  When you get to the ending, you see how everything was leading perfectly to the conclusion, and it seems so holistic and perfectly formed.

Oh, and pictures! Did I mention the illustrations?  The book is interspersed with the black and white illustrations of Dave McKean.  It’s a touch that reminds me of the Harry Potter books, a nice surprise waiting for you between the pages.  Everything combines into something really special, which is why it’s not surprising that this book won the super trio of a Newbery and Carnegie medal, plus a Hugo award.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:  http://neilgaiman.com/

Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.  307 pp. Grades 6-9.

I mentioned them in the post, but if you like this book (and you’re a fan of books for middle schoolers), try any of Eva Ibbotson’s stories, such as Which Witch or Island of the Aunts.  They’re fun, have an irreverent and light tone to them that’s similar to this one.  For adults, try Gaiman’s Neverwhere or Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. I read that book before I started blogging, but it’s a ghost story about twin girls in a haunted flat in London.