It's funny how you can sometimes know you have to read a certain book without actually knowing that much about it. I'd seen The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness, blogged about in several places and talked about on Twitter but had not read too much about it because I somehow knew I should read it. This was some months ago and when I saw it in the library recently I almost took it without thinking, a sort of automatic thing, like I knew it would present itself to me eventually and when it did I would take it. And once I'd got it, something compelled me to read it fairly quickly...
Todd Hewitt is a boy. He is in fact the only boy left in Prentisstown. In one month precisely he will be thirteen and will become a man. After that there will be no more children left in the town. Todd lives with his two guardians, Ben and Cillian, both his parents having died.
The story opens with Todd down at the swamp having been sent there by Ben to collect apples. The boy likes to go there because it's one of the few places where he can go to escape 'noise'. Noise is the combined thoughts of all the men in Prentisstown. When humans came to colonise the planet they found it already inhabited by a species known as Spackle. A war ensued in which the Spackle used germ warfare and the result was that, although humans won, their thoughts are no longer secret. But there was a twist and the twist was that it was only the thoughts of 'men' that could be read. The disease didn't affect women in the same way so although they could read the minds of men, men couldn't read the minds of women. Sadly, the disease also killed off all the women in the town.
Down at the swamp Todd finds something shocking, a patch of complete silence. Before he can investigate properly he's attacked and almost killed by another man, Aaron, the unbalanced town preacher. Managing to get away, Todd flees back to the farm, but he has to go through the town to get there and, as he goes, other men can read his mind and know what has happened. Back at home Ben flies into a panic and Todd is shocked to hear that Ben and Cillian want him to leave - not just home, they want him to leave Prentisstown. Todd has been brought up to believe that Prentisstown is all there is, that there are no other human settlements, and is stunned that he is being cast out into the unknown. But Ben has secrets. Unfortunately there is no time to reveal the truth to Todd as it seems the men of the town are coming to get the boy. All that Ben has time to say is that everything Todd knows about his world is untrue. The men arrive, Ben and Cillian put up a fight, and Todd and his dog, Manchee, run...
Okay, well all of that might sound like huge spoilers but in fact it's all revealed within the first chapter or so - this is one fast moving and pacey book! It's also a book that's almost impossible to talk about *without* spoiling so I'm not going to say a lot about it. The secrets are the best thing about this book. From start to finish you're kept guessing and some of it occurs to you and some of it doesn't and just when you decide on one thing it's turned on its head by further revelations.
The book is written in an unusual manner, rather stream of consciousness and, in places, spelling that isn't quite right. I thought that would bother me but it didn't, it underlined the fact that Todd is uneducated and how much that *matters* throughout the story.
Truthfully, this quite a shocking book. Dystopian in nature, although set on another world, feminist in nature too I felt, though others might disagree. If ever a book was thought-provoking then this is it. It's also a huge roller-coaster ride - from start to finish it never lets up, never relaxes... I felt quite exhausted when I'd finished! But in a good way, like I'd just read an amazing, unique, brilliant book that I loved to bits and wanted to tell everyone about. So I told my eldest daughter yesterday and she said that she'd read the first 30 pages a while ago and abandoned it. I was so shocked I didn't know what to say. How to tell someone they've been silly and missed something brilliant without offending them? Ack! My husband is going to read it though and I'm agog to hear what he thinks.
Any complaints? No, just questions. One big one to be honest but I've no one to ask an opinion of and maybe that will be answered in the next book, The Ask and the Answer (which is already out) and maybe it won't. Because this is a book for young adults and my question is a very adult one. And that underlines the problems YA authors must encounter when writing science fiction, or anything else for that matter, for children... even when it's older children. How far do you go? Jennifer Donnelly in A Gathering Light went pretty far in telling it like it was but it must be a real problem and it'll be interesting to hear if Patrick Ness deals with it or ignores it altogether. We'll see... and I really, *really* can't wait.