meilufay’s #CBR4 review #52 (!) The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness
This is not the 52nd book I’ve read this year but given that I’m about 15 books behind, I thought I should pick a book I really, really loved for the magical 52nd review and this, oh this, it qualifies.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a YA novel set in a dystopian future. The narrator, Todd, is the youngest boy in his town – just shy of his 13th birthday, when he will become a man. He lives in a settlement called Prentisstown, where all the women are dead and everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts (including the thoughts of any animals) in an ambient cacophony called, appropriately enough, Noise. The inhabitants of Prentisstown are settlers on “New World” (as opposed to “Old World”) and Todd has been taught that Noise (and the death of the women) was the result of a biological weapon leveled at the humans by a native, competing, species of New World, called the Spackles. In the opening chapter of the book, Todd is out walking his dog, Manchee (who hilariously talks exactly the way one imagines dogs would really talk), wondering about what’s going to happen at his birthday party, when he will become a man, when he stumbles upon a hole in the Noise. A silence. This precipitates a series of events that I will not detail because I do not wish you to be spoiled.
This book is… merciless. It’s intense. Like the knife of its title it is wickedly sharp. It is devastating. It tackles the issue of the emotional transition to adulthood remorselessly, unblinkingly and with astonishing brilliance. This book is NOT for the faint of heart. It’s dark and heartbreaking, but it is also funny, and touching, and REAL. Above all, it is real. I *felt* this book. In fact, I think it will leave a haunting echo in my consciousness for a long time. (And not just because I plan on reading books two and three in this series IMMEDIATELY.)
The book this reminds me of the most is John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids. I read that book when I was about eleven and it left a deep imprint on me. I still find myself thinking about it all the time, and I think the same will be true of The Knife of Never Letting Go (particularly if the rest of the trilogy is as good as this first book). As with The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Chrysalids is set in a dystopian agrarian settlement, its narrator is a young boy who is telepathic and does not know the full truth about the world he lives in. His community holds to a fierce, unforgivingly dogmatic version of Christianity, one which has no tolerance for difference or outsiders. For the narrators of both books, the “fall” from innocence is necessary for survival but has devastating consequences. In its refusal to back away from how disillusioning the transition from childhood to adulthood can be, The Knife of Never Letting Go also reminds me of Let The Right One In, the 2008 Swedish film about a 12 year old boy who befriends a vampire child. (I never read the book upon which it was based, or saw the American remake, so I can’t speak to those two versions of this story.) Like The Knife of Never Letting Go, Let the Right One In is rigorously, refreshingly unsentimental about adolescence. I’ve personally never really identified with the Harry Potter version of adolescence – my own adolescent experience was far less adorable or heartwarming – and I absolutely love that Patrick Ness respects the intelligence of his reading audience enough to tell this story in an unclichéd a way as possible.
Fantastic. I can’t recommend it highly enough.