The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
This novel for early teens+ was short-listed for the 2009 Carnegie Medal, and won the vote of the boys shadowing the award at the school where I work. I have to say it was a fantastic read for adults too, being multi-layered and thought-provoking – putting a new spin on the coming of age novel by setting it in a dystopian new world.
Todd Hewitt is just one month away from his thirteenth birthday and he’s the last boy in Prentisstown – a town of just men. His world is different to ours though, when the settlers arrived, everyone was infected with a virus which causes everyone to be able to hear the thoughts of every creature in close range – even your pets. The conversations between Todd and his dog, that he didn’t want but comes to depend upon, are particularly touching:
“Need a poo, Todd.”
“Shut up Manchee.”
“Poo. Poo, Todd.”
“I said shut it“.
Then one day, Todd hears someone or something that exudes silence – that’s not meant to happen. Being able to hear what others are thinking, he soon finds out that this silence means his town is living a lie, and that to escape what’s coming to him he will have to run – and the posse will be after him. All this in the first fifty pages, leaving four hundred plus for Todd to grow up very quickly indeed. He is forced to ask some very difficult questions, and finds it very hard to get any answers at all.
I can’t tell you too much more about the story without giving anything away. However, there are a series of fantastic cliff-hangers, with some more philosophical breathers in between. The novel however finishes on a real climax which will lead directly into the sequel The Ask and the Answer (now out in hardback). I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved the combination of themes, setting a coming of age story into a dystopian, slightly Sci Fi setting, and then turning it into a road novel with a John Ford style Western at its heart, (I’m thinking The Searchers (1956) here. It was fantastic and I am really looking forward to reading the follow-up.