And that certainly is a fair question to ask. For this seems to be the "year of the Hype". At least for me. I've been enthralled by both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Entranced by The Graveyard Book. Underwhelmed by the first few Fablehaven books. And blown away by the awesomeness of Looking for Alaska. And since I always seem to be just one step behind everyone else, I find myself reading books that have already gone viral across the net. And as such, I always brace myself for disappointment. I always fear that a book that has been toted by everyone and their brother will leave me with just a so-so feeling. And I HATE disappoint. I'm not sure where I'm going to go with this review, but I can tell you this: The Knife of Never Letting Go: Chaos Walking, Book One by Patrick Ness (496 pgs, Candlewick, 2008) most certainly did NOT disappoint! I'm using this book as a selection for both the RIP IV Challenge and the YA Dystopian Challenge.
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say. About anything.
Todd Hewitt is a twelve-year-old boy living in Prentisstown in the New World. The New World is a another planet that was settled years ago by people who wanted a simpler way of life. But when they reached the New World, they encountered an alien race known as the Spackle. And there was war. A war in which a germ was released that caused the "noise". This germ not only killed all the women in the New World, but most of the men. Only the men of Prentisstown are left. And they have the "Noise" disease. They can hear each others thoughts, or noise as its called. And although this sounds pretty cool in theory, being able to read eveyone's thoughts makes for a big jumbled mess most of the time. So many thoughts coming at you in all directions is enough to drive a person crazy. But this is the only world Todd has ever known.
Both his mother and father died during the war. Todd lives with friends of his mother's, Ben and Cillian, and his dog, Manchee. Prentisstown is the only settlement left from when the settlers arrived on the New World. But just 30 days before Todd's 13th birthday (the one that means he's a "Man"), something happens on his walk through the swamp. Something that causes him to go on the run from everyone and everything he has ever known. And, boy is his world turned upside down!
That's about all I can say about this book without giving away any part of the plot. And I think going in blind is the best possible way to read this book. Now...on to what *I* thought of it:
I had to give myself a day or two's time to let the story sink in before I could write this review. Is it at all possible to love a book and hate the same book all at once? Because if it is, that's how I feel about it! I know I read a couple of reviews that said this could possibly be a new favorite of all time. I'm not going to go that far. No way this book is going on the list past The Stand or To Kill a Mockingbird. I may change my mind when I'm done reading the Trilogy. But as a stand alone book, not a chance. I need closure in my life. I really HATE when a book leaves you with a huge cliff-hanger ending. And that is exactly what Ness does at the end of this one.
Reading The Knife of Never Letting Go is like riding on a roller coaster. It starts off at a real nice pace, then BAM! It kicks into high gear and doesn't stop until the final page. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. But there is no chance to catch your breath. It is so intense that you can almost feel your heart beating at times. It is an emotional read. It will absolutely tear at your heart-strings. And it is very violent and extremely graphic.
And there is another thing: I actually felt physically exhausted when I had finished reading this book. I can not remember the last time that happened to me. There is at least one scene in the book that left me so drained, I could barely get out of my chair. I felt like I had been kicked in the gut, my heart ripped from my chest and stomped on. I was so angry I wanted to throw the book out the door! And yet, I picked it up again and continued reading.
All of the things I've said sound really negative. And I don't mean it exactly like that. Those are a few of the reasons I said I hated this book. Some of the reasons I loved the book: the wonderful characters. Characters that were written so well, I could picture them vividly in my head. Characters that were so real to me I cried and screamed when something happened to them (and trust me, there is a LOT that happens). Protagonists so human that it's impossible not to completely empathize with them. A dog that could possibly be the greatest character ever written. (I now see why I could never be a cat person. Dogs are just too loyal and sweet!) And a villain that was so evil, it made me see red each time I even stumbled across his name.
There is also a fantastic story to go along with the great characters. It is dystopian in nature, which I love anyway. But the world Ness created is just incredible. The whole concept of the "noise" is unique. You would think it would be impossible to keep secrets in a world where everyone can read each others minds, but in fact, this world has MORE secrets than anywhere I know! And it's written in such a way that it is completely believable. Take this quote:
"Cuz knowledge is dangerous," he says, as serious as I've ever seen him and when I look into his Noise to see what he's hiding, it roars up and slaps me back.
But don't kid yourself. This is not a fun, light read. There is a stab-you-through-the-heart intensity that is hard to like. It is gritty and violent. And sometimes you are so overwhelmed with sadness that you physically ache. But if the sign of a good book is the fact that the author has made you feel something, then this is a great book because it engulfs you with FEELING. Even with the portions of the book that I hated, I'm still giving it a 100% 5 star rating. It was that good. Will it ever surpass my favorite books? Probably not. But I do reserve the right to revisit the topic when I complete the trilogy! 5/5
Friday, October 16, 2009