THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO; Patrick Ness; Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2008;
Young Adult Fiction.
First you should know that this first book in the Chaos Walking series is a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers, equally as distressing as the movie serials I watched as a kid that left Batman at the bottom of the elevator shaft, or Pearl White clinging to a root on a sheer drop in The Perils of Pauline. Book 2 doesn't come out until September, so if you can't stand the heat until then, stay out of the kitchen. But I digress. When Todd Hewitt is a month away from turning 13 and becoming a man, in Prentisstown, on the planet New World, he discovers something unheard of (you will appreciate the irony directly). In New World, thoughts can be heard out loud; that is to say, men's thoughts can be heard out loud, women's cannot, and people can hear animals' thoughts and communicate with them telepathically. So when Todd and his dog ("The first things you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.") go into the swamp looking for apples, they are astounded to find a pocket of silence--a place without Noise. From that moment, the action becomes breakneck and terrifying, as Todd's guardians (all the women in Prentisstown have mysteriously died) hustle him out the back door as soon as he comes home, giving him a little food and telling him to run as far and fast as he can.
Todd has only his mother's journal as a guide, and Ben's admonition to "warn them," but Todd can't read and he doesn't know whom to warn about what. With the wicked Mayor's minions and a crazy preacher in pursuit, Todd and Manchee run for their lives with death and destruction following, on the way meeting a girl who has survived the wreck of her scout ship, precursor to shiploads of new settlers. With the action, there is philosophy: how does one operate in a society where women's thoughts are secret and men's are not; where animals are known to be sentient beings. It is unclear why a people knowledgeable enough to build and operate spaceships start talking like hillbillies as soon as they reach a new world, or why living a simpler, cleaner life requires one to eschew formal education. These quibbles aside, this is a powerful, totally gripping read, the sequel very anxiously to be awaited.