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:

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!

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

“In that one slight motion, I see the end of hope, the beginning of the destruction of everything I hold dear in the world.  I can’t guess what form my punishment will take, how wide the net will be cast, but when it is finished, there will most likely be nothing left.  So you would think that at this moment, I would be in utter despair.  Here’s what’s strange.  The main thing I feel is a sense of relief.  That I can give up this game.  That the question of whether I can succeed in this venture has been answered, even if that answer is a resounding no.  That if desperate times call for desperate measures, then I am free to act as desperately as I wish.”

Katniss thought she and her Hunger Games partner, Peeta, would be safe from the arena forever, never having to return to the battlefield where they were forced to fight to the death for the chance of extra food rations for their district.  However, some of her actions during the last Hunger Games inspired uprisings in other districts.  In response, the Capitol announces a Quell.  The Quell is a special Hunger Games, designed to quash the nascent rebellions.  In this Quell, the new Reaping will only include former participants in the games.  That means that Peeta, Katniss, and Haymitch are the only potential candidates from District 12 for this year’s Hunger Games.  This could mean back to the arena for Katniss.

Friends, you have either read this book already, in which case I don’t need to tell you how riveting it is; or, you haven’t yet, and there isn’t much I can say without spoiling it for you.  I will say that Catching Fire, while it doesn’t necessarily function as a stand-alone story (you’ll want to read The Hunger Games first), it avoids the middle-child syndrome of trilogies.  By that, I mean that the book doesn’t feel like something you have to rush through to get to the ending; it’s compelling and complete in its own right.  However, if you don’t have a copy of Mockingjay at hand for when you finish this one, you will probably feel anxious, so I recommend blocking off some time, staying in your pajamas and not doing anything until you finish the whole trilogy.

Reasons this installment of the story is awesome:  an even more creative and awful arena than last Hunger Games, new developments in the mysterious purported settlement of rebels in District 13, and more reasons to love Peeta. I’ve actually had to hide the entire trilogy from my younger sister, who has to finish her master’s thesis before she can read them (her idea, not mine!).

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

If you liked this book, you might like The Maze Runner by James Dashner or Uglies by Scott Westerfield.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

“Destroying things is much easier than making them.”

It’s not the United States anymore; it’s Panem, a collection of districts under strict governmental control.  As punishment for a long-past rebellion, two young people from each district must fight for survival in the arena-style arcade battle: The Hunger Games.  The survivor’s district wins food, far more food than normal.

Participants are chosen by lottery; youth between the ages of 12 and 18 are automatically entered, but can trade against their fortunes by entering their name more than once, in exchange for more food rations.  Katniss’ name is in the drawing multiple times, but this is her baby sister’s first year to participate.

Prim is unlucky, and her name is drawn.  Instead of allowing her sister to go and fight, Katniss volunteers in her place.  With Peeta, the young man chosen from District 12, Katniss begins training for the games.  Only one teenager can win; the others will die.  When the games begin, Katniss must fight for her life.

All right, friends, please forgive me for being so slow to review this book.  I know the entire universe is already in love with it, so I’ll be quick with the plot summary.  I just wanted to include this on the blog because I noticed some very interesting things about the story’s message, and I wanted to share them with you.

In the recent past, the literary world was grappling with some very cynical ideas: the collapse of meaning, and a collective anxiety about the future of the world.  Power-the struggle for it and the attempts to retain it-is the primary focus.  These concepts are associated with a literature movement called postmodernism.  I don’t like to get all preachy, but I never loved postmodernism, and here is why I’m telling you about it:

I think The Hunger Games is showing us what lies beyond the other side of postmodernism.  When Katniss steps up and volunteers her life in place of her sisters, she is mirrored by another district’s character, who refuses to take his sibling’s place.  The book shows us both sides, and empowers us to chose one.  Through the course of the novel, we watch Katniss as she negotiates the horrific choices laid before her, and tries to behave ethically in a system designed to reward bloodlust.  This book shows us the possibility of hope’s triumph, and teaches us that sincerity allows us to be both strong and vulnerable.  The story rewards loyalty over force, ethics over calculations, and love over destruction.  These are not necessarily new ideas, but they are concepts that postmodernism hasn’t accounted for.

My biggest pet peeve is when people tell me that young adult books aren’t true literature, and I’m grateful to authors like Suzanne Collins for demonstrating otherwise.  She presents the rift between two literary schools of thought, and allows space for us to contemplate the separate worlds created by each; that’s heavy stuff, and I applaud her for trusting that her audience is capable (and willing) to engage with it.

Besides, it’s a fantastic story.  You are going to go crazy about it, if you haven’t already.

Happy Reading!

Author’s website:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2008. 374 pp. Ages 12 and up.

If you liked the philosophical feel to the book, you will love Nothing by Janne Teller (it’s on the Awesome-est List).  And if you liked the post-apocalyptic feel, I think you should try How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff or Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi.

I just saw this: one more reason why The Hunger Games is a great book!