The Ask and The Answer

As you know if you follow me on twitter, a couple of days ago I finished Book 1 in the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness.

And then – I PANICKED!!! Because I did not have book 2 on my shelves and it was 9:00pm and my town doesn’t have a bookstore and by the time I made it to a town that did have a bookstore the bookstore would be closed and WHAT WAS I GOING TO DO!?!?

I couldn’t sleep. I could barely breathe. I was in AGONY.

So the next morning I drove as fast as I could to Denver, normally an hour away, but you can make it in 35 minutes if it’s really important…

And I RAN into Tattered Cover Colfax (I had checked online and they were the only store within driving distance that had at least 1 copy of all three Chaos Walking books.) dragging my tired and slightly bewildered children with me and I BOUGHT THEM OUT! (Sorry to others who may want these books. I’m sure Tattered Cover has them on rush order now.)

Chaos Walking

Tattered Cover completes me!

And then I turned around (after buying my kids each a book of their very own to thank them for putting up with my personal brand of crazy) and drove home almost as fast I as had driven there and sat down to write my review of book one – The Knife of Never Letting Go.

And then I had a typical busy day and I didn’t get to sit down and start reading The Ask and The Answer until later that evening.

I finished it last night and the only reason I could sleep (or breathe for that matter) was because I knew I had book 3 waiting for me on the shelf. I might allegedly have fallen asleep caressing it…

So – what is it about these books that is SO TOTALLY AMAZING? I’m sorry I keep cyber shouting at you, but… Really. So good.

I’m not going to get into the plot because I am terrified of spoiling something – and because while the plot matters – it drives the story, it’s incredibly well done and all of that – ultimately it’s just a plot. What makes these books so awesome that I want to buy yet more copies is the characters.

The Ask and The Answer opens exactly where The Knife of Never Letting Go ended. One breath, one heart beat later and we’re immediately thrown into the fire again.

patrick ness ask and answer

If you have an Answer, there must be an Ask…

We start with Todd, the protagonist from book 1 and we follow his awakening into the truth of the world he thought he was escaping.

And then – we jump to Viola. The Girl from book 1. The girl who had no noise, who was impenetrable – a mystery.

And – I admit, at first I was worried because I thought – maybe the reason Patrick Ness kept the women Quiet in book 1 was because He didn’t know how to write them, because He saw them as mysterious and impenetrable and impossible to read… Then Patrick Ness blew my mind.

He writes Viola just as well – just as real and truthful as he writes Todd. And… Even better than that, he writes her as the morally complex, walking the line – and teetering, female anti-hero I’ve been waiting for.

I want to take a minute to go back to The Knife of Never Letting Go for a second and share the moment Viola is introduced. Todd discovers her – a girl, of course it’s a girl, he knows that, he’s seen them in the vids and in the memories of the men. But there they are sweet and smiling and wearing dresses and doing the inside chores and they have long shiny hair and bright eyes and did I mention – they’re smiley?

Viola by comparison is wearing clothes that look just like Todd’s and her hair isn’t long and shiny and she sure “as all that’s unholy ain’t smiley. Not smiley at all.”

Viola isn’t a “strong female character” – she’s tough and smart and calm under pressure and completely freaked out and plotting and brave and clever and prepared and terrified and… She is complex and real and whole.

She is morally dubious. She is forced into impossible situations where she is given less than half of the information and forced to make the best call she can in the circumstances – and sometimes that call might be wrong – except if you’re in her shoes, of course, it’s right. Just like Todd who has been dragged to the other side of the line and put in his own impossible situation with less than half of that information and forced to make the best call that he can.

And suddenly – suddenly you see how families and friends can be ripped apart by war and partisanship. Suddenly you see why your Fox news family members can’t have civil conversations with your MSNBC family members – because they’ve both only been given one fraction of one piece of one side of the information – as if it was THE WHOLE TRUTH.

The Ask and The Answer raises the tricky question – what is the difference between a revolutionary and a terrorist?

Pause – and think about that for a moment. Mull it over.

Is a terrorist just a revolutionary you don’t agree with? Is a revolutionary just a terrorist who wins…?

The book sways between Todd and Viola’s points of view giving us partial glimpses of both sides of this story. I say partial glimpses, because we only ever know as much as Todd and Viola know – and while we can guess at some of the in-betweens because we have both of their pieces of the puzzle, we can never quite see the whole picture until it’s almost too late and we are left breathless and stunned and yanking the page over to learn what else has been hidden, what else there still is to learn, what choice these two will have to make next as they discover another pawn in the game, another fork in the road, another twist in their own stories.

And… Once again – Patrick Ness nails this book from a feminist standpoint. He calls out the latent sexism that has been established by the many societies set up on New World (What’s the difference between a doctor and healer? Hint, it has to do with genitalia…) and he does it without beating you over the head with it, it’s just there – these small moments of acknowledgement that hey – isn’t that ridiculous and then in the back of your mind there’s this little flare of recognition when you realize that, wait a minute – that’s happening right here, right now and YES – that IS ridiculous!

I really cannot recommend these books enough. I am thankful that I waited to discover them until the whole series was available because I cannot imagine the agony of waiting an entire year or more between books. Each one ends itself perfectly, while also setting up the next exquisitely.

Tonight I plan to start book 3 – Monsters of Men and I will post a review here as soon as I can.

In the meantime – take my advice and just go buy the series already and start reading.

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

3 responses to “The Ask and The Answer

  1. I got goosebumps when I saw you’d reviewed these. One of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years…and up there with the likes of Cormack McCarthy. Seriously good LITERATURE; it’s so weird to me that it was marketed toward KIDS. It sold its audience WAY short. Original, brilliantly thought through, beautiful writing and haunting in its relevance.

  2. Pingback: Monsters of Men | ThinkBannedThoughts Blog

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