Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1) - Patrick Ness
Genre: YA Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian/Sci-Fi
# of pages:
479 (pb)
Publisher: Candlewick
Recommended for
: Upper MS (13/14+), HS, and Beyond!

Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Machee - whose thoughts Todd can hear, too, whether he wants to or not - stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden - a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.
But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

My Thoughts
Even a full 6 days after I finished reading this novel, I don't really know what to say. I'm going to do my best, though...This is one of those books that just gets all sorts of emotional reactions out of you, so I've got a lot of feelings to try and put into words.
I'll start simple: The Knife of Never Letting Go is definitely in my list of the Most Powerful Books I've ever read. This is a story that will completely captivate you, and not necessarily in the sweet, cute, "OMG I *love* this book, it's so awesome!" kind of way. Y'all, I had dreams about this book--maybe even a nightmare or two. Even in sleep, I was absorbed in Todd's chaotic, utterly terrifying world, and I could neither get him or his struggles out of my head.
The first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy is, in my mind, way more than just a dystopian. Most dystopians I've read have some kind of "centralized power" feel to them: they're set in crowded, urban areas that are highly technological and feature big, oppressive governmental regimes. In contrast, the Chaos Walking setting more closely resembles a post-apocalyptic world: you've got settlers not only trying to make a go of life on a new land, but a new planet. But this is no idyllic "city on a hill" society - Todd's world is (like the series title implies) chaotic, oppressive, violent, and downright terrifying.
This first book alone has me convinced that the author, Patrick Ness, is a genius. Pure and simple genius. The way he tells his story is 100% effective, engrossing, and just a little provocative as well. The violence, the terror, the's all seen through the eyes of a soon-to-be 13**-year-old boy named Todd Hewitt. Everything that we know about this world is told to us through the narrative of young Todd, the last boy in a society full of men (**Todd lives in a world when time is measured on a 13-month calendar, so he's actually - by our standards - 14 years old. That made it a little easier for me to digest everything that happened to him, imagining an almost-high-school-aged kid rather than a little 7th grader).
The narrative structure is (once again) genius. First person narratives are really popular in Young Adult, but here's where Todd's voice is different and, in my opinion, truly authentic.
The narrative is written in common, very informal vernacular not unlike the tone of Huckleberry Finn. In fact, if you've read Huck Finn, you'll do fine with the narrative. It's been awhile since I've read such an informal narrative tone, and Todd's voice is full of run-on sentences and (also genius) misspelled words, so it took me about 50 pages to really hear his voice in my head, but once I heard it, the voice stayed with me. It was powerful. It was authentic. It was innocent, and that brings me to my next Patrick-Ness-is-a-genius point:
This book - this storyworld - is incredibly scary. It's very, very violent and full of very, very wicked and destructive men, and we see it all through the eyes of a young boy, who symbolizes innocence and the inherent goodness in humanity. Brilliant. Todd and an unlikely friend are on the run from the men of Prentisstown, who seek to enlist Todd (the last boy in their society and, also, the last symbol of innocence) in their perfect army. Books in which the characters are being chased always seem to add an extra edge of excitement and suspense to the action of the story, and this was definitely no exception. However, the book was pretty long, and it got to the point where I was almost expecting folks to jump out, go "BOO!" and smack the crap out of the poor main character.
And that's the next point: as exhilarating as this book is, it's also exhausting. The danger that Todd and Viola face borders on extreme, and the violence is definitely not going to be in everybody's comfort zone. Personally, there wasn't anything in here that I thought was gratuitous or unnecessary - New World is a dangerous and kind of wild place, like a dystopian version of the Wild West, where fear and intimidation are the laws of the land. Personally, I would recommend this book to 8th graders - definitely - and some of my 7th graders. It's a hard book to read, because it's so bleak, and the fact that you have very evil, disturbed people chasing very good, innocent kids is heart-wrenching. But here's where Patrick Ness is a good author - here's where he's a genius and not just some shock-factor extraordinaire: there is genuine heart in the voice of our narrator, and a belief in hope that is beautiful and powerful. Todd Hewitt is one of the most likable, cheer-worthy characters you'll ever read. Promise. Plus, this book is so substantial. Not only does it ask some good questions, it even proposes some answers (personally, I'm not too impressed with authors who just ask questions in their gotta give me some answers, too, dudes and dudettes). One of the questions that stayed with me was "What makes a man?" Todd thinks he knows the answer to this at the beginning of the novel, but by the end, he seems to have had a profound awakening. Another question - "Is killing always - in every situation and in every circumstance - wrong, or can it be justified?"
I was very, VERY surprised with how it was handled. I commend Ness for really making the character (and the reader) think about this one, and I appreciate that he didn't just throw out some PC absolute statement. Because sometimes things are more complicated than "either-or" absolutes. Anyway, that was just something I wrote down in my notes while I was reading. I was impressed.
And even though I'm halfway done with The Ask and the Answer, I *still* think that Todd Hewitt is one of my top favorite characters of all time. I I just love this guy.
In my opinion, The Knife of Never Letting Go is destined to be a classic in Young Adult fiction. This book (and series) is so profound, it will change you. It way stay with you. And as much as I like books and stuff, very rarely does one actually have this much of an impact on me. It was not a happy read, but it was a substantial one. Oh, and I cried. I actually CRIED. Just to compare, there were a *few* times in The Hunger Games when I teared up, but I never CRIED.

A quick "viewer discretion" thingy: Like I've already said, this book is pretty violent, and somewhat disturbing. Personally, I didn't think it was near as disturbing as some of my friends have said, but nevertheless, The Knife of Never Letting Go makes The Hunger Games look like "Sesame Street." So just proceed with caution. There's nothing here that I wouldn't give to an older middle-schooler, though.

Final Grade:


Memorable Quotes
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say. About anything. (pg 1)
And he closes his eyes and opens up his Noise for me. One month's time is the first thing it says -
And here comes my birthday -
The day I'll become a man -
And -
And -
And there it all is -
What happens -
What the other boys did who became men -
All alone -
All by themselves... (pg 52)
I look over at Viola and she looks back at me and just smiles and shakes her head and wipes away the wet from her eyes.
Here. Here.
We're Here and nowhere else. (pg 244)
I look up to him. His face and his Noise are as blank as I remember but the lesson of forever and ever is that knowing a man's mind ain't knowing the man." (pg 308)
"Please, Viola," I say and I'm practically weeping it. "Please."
She blinks open her eyes.
She looks into mine.
"You came for me," she says.
"I did," I say, coughing.
"You came for me," she says again, her face crumpling a little. (pg 345)
"Hope," he says, squeezing my arm on the word. "It's hope. I am looking into yer eyes right now and I am telling you that there's hope for you, hope for you both." He looks up at Viola and back at me. "There's hope waiting for you at the end of the road." (pg 376)

The Knife of Never Letting Go @ Amazon


I haven't done a Waiting on Wednesday in foreverrr...seriously, I think the last book I did a WOW post for was The Replacement - :o. But there's one particular book that I'm super excited about, that I wanted you all to be aware of:

The Year We Were Famous - Carole Estby Dagg
Publication date: April 4th by HMH-Clarion

Summary from Goodreads:
With their farm in Mica Creek, Washington facing foreclosure, seventeen-year-old Clara Estby and her mother, Helga, need to find a way to raise a lot of money in a short time--no easy feat for two women in 1896. Helga wants to tackle the problem with her usual loud and flashy style, while Clara, the oldest of the eight Estby children, favors a less showy approach. Though very different in personality, mother and daughter share a determination to save their family's home, so they come up with a plan to walk the 4,600 miles from Mica Creek to New York City--and if they can do it in only eight months, a New York City publisher has agreed to give them $10,000.
They set out with little more than ten dollars, two ponchos, and a gun. Along the way they go through sixteen pairs of shoes each, fend off snakes and highwaymen, and narrowly escape a flash flood. But they also meet the governor of every state they pass through and the wife of presidential-candidate, William Jennings Bryan, as well as shake hands with the new president himself, William McKinley. And with each new challenge they face, Clara and Helga come to rely on and respect one another for the very traits that make them so different.
Based on the true story of the author's great aunt and great-great grandmother, this is a fast-paced historical fiction adventure for 10-14 year-olds that sets the drama of Around the World In 80 Days against an American backdrop during the time of the suffragist movement, the 1896 presidential campaign, and the changing perception of "a woman's place" in society.

I'm a history major, so I find most YA historical fiction absolutely drool-worthy, but the setting here - the close of the American West - is just so fascinating. Really excited about this one!
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
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