The Knife of Never Letting Go
About the Book
Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.
Author: Patrick Ness
Dystopian fiction has been a huge hit over the last few years, and The Knife of Never Letting Go is a particularly bleak look on an extremely young protagonist in a world that is convinced that it is working just fine. Patrick New creates a world full of mysteries, and one where the answers are almost always worse than you would hope.
The concept is incredibly interesting; a future world where the inhabitants have gained the ability to read one another’s thoughts. It isn’t as neat or useful as one would hope, coming across as a whole lot of jumbled stream-of-consciousness noise to the listener, who has to pick out the things that they are looking for if they want to make sense of the thoughts. But it creates a police state where there is literally no such thing as privacy, and where secret keeping becomes difficult, if not impossible. So the secrets that are being hidden become even more terrifying. The stakes in this novel automatically feel higher because of the setup; every thought and emotion that Todd is having could be the next source of action.
Ness uses written accents and purposeful misspellings of common words throughout the novel, and it doesn’t do much to attach the audience to the character. The dialect written into the prose is supposed to serve as a reminder of the protagonist’s mindset and level education, but I found it distracting, something that constantly took me away from my concentration on the story rather than anything that added to it. Written into the dialogue it makes sense, and carries weight, but punctuation every sentence of the prose feels excessive and unnecessary.
Beyond that it was difficult to put myself into the story of this book because there are no characters that are easy to become attached to. The main character, Todd, is a child who is spending most of his time trying to figure out everything that is going on around him, and unlearn the actions and habits that are expected of him by his hometown. But that in itself isn’t enough to make him particularly likeable, and the moments when he starts to step into himself come much later into the book, and are small and subtle things. Everyone else in the story is either being buffeted along by the action as much as the main protagonist, and in that they don’t have much time to develop their distinct personalities, or they are on a range between mild-mannered and entirely loathsome.
The journey that Todd takes is one without stops or rests, one that hurtles along a road towards an unknown destination, with nonstop actions throughout. But for the reader it serves to exhaust, rather than invigorate. There is very little lightness or humor to balance out the sheer sadness of the situation, and the darkness of it envelops both the characters and the reader in a way that, though it has a lot to say, is not high in the way of entertainment.
For me, personally, the draw of dystopian fiction is typically in the characters that the stories revolve around. The worlds are not things that you would want to visit, not place that you want to stay in as long as possible like so many fantasy stories. Instead the drive is to finish the story and to see where the people end up, what they do with the impossible situation that they have been thrust into. At least for the first book in this series, there is very little prevailing feeling of hope or determination. The characters go on simply because that’s what is required of them. This may be a more realistic feeling, but it doesn’t seem like a narratively driving one.
This book is well conceptualized, and those concepts are executed effectively, but the overall feeling that it left was one of exhaustive and almost repetitive brutality. It isn’t something that I would recommend for young readers, and would recommend to adults only if they haven’t already been emotionally exhausted by the bleakness of dystopian fiction.