The Knife of Never Letting Go is a book written several years ago but is only now getting a lot of attention. Why it’s taken this long, I cannot imagine. The book is absolutely brilliant–a YA fan’s dream. Why books like Twilight are famous when books like this one by Patrick Ness exist, I will never comprehend.
I never would have heard of it or picked it up were it not for my YA-themed book club. The novel recounts the story of Todd Hewitt, a boy of fourteen who lives in a very strange place called Prentisstown. From the beginning the reader knows that something is not right, and that Prentisstown does not exist in any earthly realm. There are no women in Prentisstown. Todd has never seen one. He believes them to be completely extinct, wiped out in a war with the Spackle, the humanoid native race of the planet Prentisstown has been built upon. Also, there is Noise. Every man can hear what every other man (and animal) is thinking. Todd is constantly beset by the voices of his fellow townsfolk, and can keep no secrets of his own. Everything he thinks, feels, and sees is visible to every man around him. When he encounters something strange and unexpected in the swamps outside of town, he is immediately ejected from town by his two fathers in order to preserve his life. The rest of the book follows Todd on the run, as the entirety of Prentisstown gives chase.
It has been a while since the suspense and action in a novel has made me catch my breath and get emotional. Todd is an emergent hero in whom I really managed to get invested. The most frightening parts involve a man named Aaron, Prentisstown’s maniacal preacher and a man who seemingly cannot be killed no matter how horrible a thing happens to him (including being attacked by a crocodile, mauled by a dog, and electrocuted). Todd lives like an animal on the run, with his faithful (if at first unwanted) and hilarious dog Manchee at his side. Every time Aaron or one of the other Prentisstown men appears (as the readers knows they will but vainly hopes they won’t), it’s like a punch in the gut. I haven’t felt this much fear for a character in a long time.
There are so many things that set this novel apart from the average. First, and I love it when authors do this, Ness ignores the basic principles of typesetting in novels. His portrayal of noise is often messy and scary, with varying scrawled fonts overlapping each other and running crazily off the edge of a page. Also, being written in Todd’s voice, a good many of the words are misspelled. This bothered me a great deal at first, but the reader discovers a short way into the novel the reason why, and it makes sense. I greatly admire Ness and his patience and dedication to the authenticity of his character’s voice.
For some reason, I tend to enjoy novels with a relatively hopeless tone. All the while, as Todd runs from these frightening men, one gets the feeling that his planet is very very small, and he is going to run out of places to run and hide. Though the reader knows that he will eventually have to stand up and fight, perhaps alone, one cannot help but hope that he will not. And Ness does not give any succor to his character or to his readers. At the end of the novel, just when it seems that Todd has finally found some refuge and a solution to his problems, something happens to completely shatter his hopes, and the novel cuts off on a completely despairing note. I would say, “Fear not, fellow YA fans. This is a YA series, so it has to have a happy ending!” Well, I used to believe that, until a certain favorite series of mine (which shall remain nameless but can probably be guessed by those who either 1. know me or 2. have read the series as well) completely obliterated my faith in YA happy endings.
The single thing that I did not care for about this novel was the abrupt ending. Fortunately, the rest of the series is already out, and I can read them back to back, which I fully intend to do (I’ve already checked the second out from the library). Folks, this novel is a gem, and I highly recommend it to everyone, not just fans of the genre. Patrick Ness is a genius of a writer–one that I believe deserves a lot more recognition than he’s been given so far.