Wow. I mean, just wow. I’m in shock, I think. I finished reading The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness about forty minutes ago and I just can’t get my brain to work. I’m stuck in time, my thoughts frozen on the last sentence of the novel, my mouth hanging wide open in the shape of an O.
I’ve been reading a lot lately, devouring books faster than I can get my hands on them, but nothing – I repeat nothing – stands out nearly half as much as this book does. It’s profound, it’s remarkable, it’s downright captivating.
Imagine living in a world where women no longer exist. In fact, they’ve been extinct for so long that you’ve never ever seen one with your own two eyes. Well, that’s what life is like for twelve, almost thirteen-year-old Todd Hewitt. When his people settled in Prenticetown, New World, they had no idea that they were settling in a place full of disease. Before long all the men had contracted The Noise – the ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around them – and the women started dropping off like flies. Todd’s mother died just after she had him, and so did all the other women, which makes Todd the youngest, and last person born in Prenticetown.
In a town where everyone can hear everyone’s thoughts (including animals), there is never a moment of peace. Not ever. So when Todd stumbles upon a hole in all the noise, a patch of quiet, he knows something is very wrong. Everyone hears the quiet in his thoughts and suddenly Todd finds himself being chased out of town. Only, Todd didn’t really know there was an out of town. Suddenly, nothing makes sense.
While being pursued he stumbles across the quiet patch again, only to discover that the quiet is actually a she, a girl. And he can’t hear a single thought passing through her mind. But all the women died, didn’t they? If so, then what the hell is this thing in front of him? It must be an alien – a spackle – right? Wrong. It only takes Todd a few moments to realize that this is no spackle, and that he really is looking at a girl, for real. But where did she come from? And how did she survive the disease? Unfortunately, Todd and Viola (the girl) don’t really have time to get to know each other because all of Prenticetown is looking for him, looking for her. Todd’s life takes on a new meaning as he realizes that he must protect Viola at all costs. If the army catches up with them, they’ll kill her and they’ll kill him too.
Suddenly, as the truth about his people’s real past comes out, Viola and Todd realize that the only thing they have left is each other. Their survival depends on the other’s commitment to keep them alive. The Knife of Never Letting Go is a story full of betrayal, deceit, and the painful realization that the human race is capable of some seriously profound acts of evil. Everywhere Todd and Viola go, destruction seems to follow them. They realize they can’t go into any more settlements because the army tears through soon after, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. When they make the choice to avoid all further settlements, in all circumstances in order to protect civilians from unnecessary harm, readers learn that perhaps, just maybe, there is a little bit of good left in humanity after all.
The companionship that develops between Todd and Viola is heart warming, to say the least. Their instinctual, primal desire to survive is what brings them together, but it’s their friendship that ultimately keeps them fighting, keeps them alive. They not only want to stay alive for themselves, but they want to stay alive for each other, too. Because really, a life without companionship isn’t a life worth fighting for. The moment Todd realizes this is both beautiful and poetic, and I found myself feeling a little choked up, searching for tissues.
Patrick Ness’s phonetic use of language really helps set the tone of the story, and assists in building clear, perfect images of the characters in question. When Todd finds Viola, it is instantly clear she’s not from his planet because she pronounces words differently to him. I normally find phonetic manipulation of language like this annoying as it tends to slow down my reading process, and interrupts the narrative flow of things. The phonetic manipulation in The Knife of Never Letting Go, however, makes for effortless, colorful reading.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is nothing short of brilliant. Every page brings with it new revelations, new drama, deeper character development. Just when you think the book can’t possibly get any better, Ness raises the bar and takes the story to a whole new level of greatness. Reading this novel has been a real pleasure, and one that I know I’ll repeat many times over in the months to come. To say that I am eagerly awaiting the second instalment of this story is the understatement of the century.