I was recommended Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go by a librarian friend. She told me it was by far the best book she’d read that year. She said it gave Hunger Games a run for it’s money. I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t. Sure, the cover was amazing, but…how could we have two such beautifully written and life-changing books so close together?
The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. Todd Hewitt lives in New Prentisstown, a town with no women, on a planet where all men have a “noise.” And not just men – animals too, and the native alien species, The Spackle, as well. Each mans noise broadcasts his thoughts, his feelings, to anyone nearby. Sometimes it’s words. Sometimes it’s images. But the men have no secrets. New Prentisstown is an ugly place – violent and controlling and cold. And then something happens that changes Todd’s whole world. In the woods he finds a girl, a girl with no noise who will teach him that life doesn’t have to be the brutal existence Todd has suffered through.
The thing that grabbed my attention this book was how interactive it seemed. I’m not talking about a pick-your-ending sort of thing. But the way the words are shown on the page. The way Ness SHOWS us the chaos that is the noise. And Todd’s thoughts and dialogue aren’t in proper English because he grew up in a place where he had no education. Or “edyukashun” as Todd would say. At first it bugged me, but the more I got into the book and into Todd, the more it made sense and the more I appreciated it as a stylistic choice.
Todd Hewitt is probably my favorite male lead in a YA book ever. He is so thoughtful and sensitive. He comes from one of the ugliest backgrounds I can imagine – one of the least nurturing – and yet here he is, a caring kid who wants to be better. He feels his mistakes in a way that’s so touching and makes you fall in love with him so hard.
Then there’s Viola. She is the total opposite of Todd. She was educated, grew up on a settler ship with parents who loved her and has come to help colonize a new world. And she teaches Todd so much about strength and love and standing up for what’s right all the while being smart and capable and stubborn.
But it’s the interactions between Todd and Viola and the way they teach each other and grow together that makes these books special. Especially in the later books. I wanted to cuddle both of them away and protect them with every page turn.
The plot and the dystopian set-up is genius. The idea of only men having noise and not women and the undercurrents of resentment that creates and how it’s handled was perfectly done. The message is never so obvious that it slaps you in the face. It’s always subtly done and never black and white. The gray areas this book (and this series) creates made me think in a way only those very special books can.
And, dear lord, the ending. I died reading it. I freaking died. Thank goodness the sequel was already out when I read this book or I would have lost my mind.
Chaos Walking may be my favorite non-Harry Potter series of all time. I’ll be talking about the rest of the trilogy tomorrow and Monday, so stay tuned.