Disclaimer – I have had this book on my “Read NOW!” shelf for over a year. It was on my radar long before that, but… What can I say, so many books, so little time.
And, to be honest, I had a really bad reading year. For many, many reasons, this was not a year of words for me.
But that trend seems to be changing and I’m glad because my shelves are breaking under the weight of all the neglected books I need to read NOW! Or, right after I finish this series anyway.
To the review – The Knife of Never Letting Go By Patrick Ness
The book opens on a world where all the women are dead. There was a war and the natives unleashed a germ that made it so all men’s thoughts could be heard by everyone all the time – creating Noise. The same germ killed all the women.
Todd is the last boy, 30 days from becoming a man.
He and his stupid I didn’t even want a dog dog, Manchee are out in the swamp looking for apples when they hear Quiet.
Real, actual Quiet – like a black hole in the Noise, drawing them in.
When Todd and Manchee get back to town, their Noise alerts the other men to the Quiet.
Suddenly everything Todd thought he knew turns out to be wrong and he’s running for his life with only his dog and a book he can’t read that holds the secrets he’s not sure he can bear to learn.
When he and Manchee make it back to the swamp, the Quiet is still there. They track it down only to discover it’s a girl.
An Actual Real Live Girl! In New World.
Todd’s broken reality shatters and he realizes that there’s much more going on than he ever knew – but in a world where there are no private thoughts, how has a secret this big been kept for so long?
Thus begins The Knife of Never Letting Go.
There is so much awesome in this book – it’s definitely one to set some time aside for because you aren’t going to want to put it down.
Manchee was my first love. The stupid dog that Todd never even wanted who reminded me SO much of my new stupid puppy, if my puppy could talk.
He provides brilliant comic relief and the incredibly insightful wisdom of fools.
Todd is a remarkably true and real character – more than strong enough to carry the story, the action, the breathless race through to the end.
He is innocent and insightful and cocky and fragile all at once. He yearns for the life he has been promised, even as he learns that his whole world was built on a terrible lie.
We see him bury his head in the sand and deny the truth he knows is there, trying to hold onto his naiveté one more day, even as he counts down to the day he is supposed to become a man and let go of his childish notions.
At his side, Viola – the Girl. Filled with disconcerting Quiet. Unreadable, even as she reads him, hears him, learns him.
And that – that relationship, based on this incredible difference is the heart of the brilliance of this book.
We all read and interpret through our own lens, our own experiences and history. Patrick Ness wrote this story – and I’m about to tell you the shape it reached me in, which may or may not have anything to do with how he intended it to be held and read and felt.
When I learned that girls and women were Quiet – impenetrable – while boys and men were Noisy, open books – it brought me right back to junior high and high school when all my guy friends told me how mysterious and confusing girls were. It reminded me that even I tended to hang out with the guys mostly because I could read them – there was less guesswork – yeah, sure there was a ton of “fronting” and other BS, but it was transparent. I never really had to read between the lines to know how they felt, what they wanted – they just said it out loud.
Girls – girls played games, they’d say one thing to your face and another behind your back and you never really knew where you stood with them. It was like there was this secret piece of them that they never shared with the world. I couldn’t read them – and even when I did, I never trusted it. Not completely.
This is a common stereotype of men and women – men are forthright, open books. Sure they can lie and deceive, but not like women. Women are chameleons, unreadable and therefore untrustworthy…
Watching Todd struggle with this split – being so used to knowing everything everyone is thinking – and wondering if Viola’s Quiet means she is simply empty – and therefore stupid or unworthy, before she speaks and proves her worth – is so reminiscent of our culture where many women feel they have to prove themselves over and over and over before they will be taken seriously or seen as more than an “empty skirt.”
Or where women are portrayed as conniving, secretive, backstabbing, deceitful, disloyal creatures – who again, have to prove themselves over and over – before they are believed.
As I read this book, it read like a feminist manifesto – written for boys and men, who have been taught in so many subtle ways that women are Other.
It doesn’t shove an agenda down your throat, but I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and coming away with anything less than a belief that women are people and that they are worthy of more than the discarded scraps of life that men throw their way.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a fast paced race through a New World filled with a familiar range of solutions to “The Woman Problem.” As Todd and Viola race against an army toward the hope of safety, Todd battles with the idea of manhood he was raised with and the reality of manhood when there is a girl becoming a woman right next to him – and she’s nothing like he was told, because she is her very own thing.
“We ain’t spies,” I say in a hurry.
“The army your girl’s been talking about has been spotted marching down the river road,” Doctor Snow says. “One of our scouts just reported them as less than an hour away.”
“Oh, no,” I hear Viola whisper.
“She ain’t my girl,” I say, low.
“What?” Doctor Snow says.
“What?” Viola says.
“She’s her own girl,” I say. “She don’t belong to anyone.”
And does Viola ever look at me.
Whether you lean feminist or not – this is a fabulous, fast paced book through a dystopian realm that sits just close enough to home to really make you feel it. Todd, Manchee and Viola are all vivid, fully realized characters that you can’t help rooting for. I finished it last night and couldn’t sleep because I was itching to go to the store to get books 2 and 3 in the series. I got up first thing this morning and drove for an hour to the nearest book store that had all 3 books on the shelf and bought them out so that I’d have extra copies to lend.
There are a couple of books that I compulsively buy – like Mel Gibson’s character buying Catcher in the Rye in the movie Conspiracy Theory – Except instead of hoarding them, I buy mine so I always have a few on hand to loan out or gift.
Lamb by Christopher Moore, Forever by Judy Blume and Holes by Louis Sachar are a couple of them. The Knife of Never Letting Go just joined that list.