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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

Category Archives: dystopia

This past summer, for my Media and Society class, we collected data from our days. That is, conversations – we wrote down conversations we observed, and ones we participated in.  The information was then mined for similarities, categorized, and put in collections.  It was then these observations became media.
We live in a constantly connected society. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other sites, we can know with a click of a button where our friends are, what our favorite celebrities are doing, up-to-the-minute news as it breaks, and more.
It’s these thoughts went through my thread as I sat down to write this review for The Knife of  Never Letting Go first of the Chaos Walking series.  That class proved the claim that information is everywhere.  But it took me a long time to review this. I actually read it when I received it in 2008. Then I read it again. I just couldn’t form words that could capture what it does to you.

What would it be like to live in a world where others could hear your every thought?

Such a society exists in The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. The first in the “Chaos Walking” series introduces us to a world in which there are no women left, and every thought by a man or child is audible to all those around, due to an infection known as “Noise.”  Todd Hewlitt is the last boy in the strange settlement of Prentisstown.  His birthday is around the corner, and he’s about to become a man.   With only his dog,  the ever-faithful Manchee, for companionship, Todd ventures to pick apples in a clearing. Only it’s silent and devoid of noise.  More importantly, a girl, Viola Eade, whose spaceship has crashed, and she is its only survivor.    Todd soon learns Viola’s existence poses a threat and the two flee, pursued by the townspeople.

There’s a lot going on in this book, but unlike some dystopian novels I’ve read, The Knife of Never Letting Go appears to have a very clear direction. There’s a great deal of mystery and intrigue in this society, but as Todd uncovers more, the readers learn the real history of Prentisstown along width him. The varying fonts throughout Knife really illustrate  the overwhelming cacophony of thoughts that surround the members of Prentisstown, and let us feel like we’re on the run with Todd as well.   The writing is quick paced, and I flew through the novel, each chapter becoming more taut with suspense as Todd discovers the dark secrets of those he trusted.    The voice of Todd, however, was my favorite.  The improper grammar, the introspective moments , the running stream of consciousness, in other books it would grate on a reader’s nerves perhaps, here, it fuses together perfectly.   His growing loss of innocence is amplified in lines such as the following:

“Men lie, and they lie to theirselves most of all.”

“And there’s so much sorrow in his noise, so much worry and edginess, I know he’s speaking true, I know he can’t help what’s happening and I hate it…  We don’t say anything more. What else is there to say? Everything and nothing. You can’t say everything, so you don’t say nothing.”

This is a heavy read and will stick with you for quite some time.   The novel approaches so many topics from information to the role of women, to colonization, I could easily see it used in a classroom. On Twitter, I suggested it might make an interesting read next to Fahrenheit 451, with the constrasting themes of the ending of the dissemination of information and the overwhelming power of information.

Two things worth noting:  One issue I had with the storyline: Todd’s abuse of Manchee.  However, I did consider that within this society such treatment of animals isn’t vilified.     Also the foster guardians of Todd, Ben and Cillian, their relationship wasn’t explicitly stated, but it seemed that the two men were a couple who displayed nothing but devotion and care for Todd.  I found this refreshing in a YA novel, and liked that it just existed in the backdrop.

I’d recommend The Knife of Never Letting Go to fans of dystopian fiction, Fahrenheit 451, Candor, Margaret Atwood.

The second book in this series, The Ask and the Answer, has been released in hardcover as well. I warn you, The Knife ends on very unsettling cliffhanger. You’ll want to get The Ask and the Answer immediately.

Copy for review provided by the publisher.

Title:  The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness
Date: 2008
Publisher:  Candlewick Press
Pages: 496
Format: Hardback



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Two of my favorite novels, Anthem and Brave New World, depict dystopian worlds. Based on this, I approached Tim Lott’s Fearless eagerly. Lott’s debut teen novel reveals a futuristic world where girls labeled dangerous for society are “put away” in the sinister “City Community Faith School,” where they’re robbed off any traces of identity. Lott, a Whitbread First Novel Award winner, for White Blue City(1999). However, the novel suffers what I deem “the Lost-effect,” meaning it becomes so wrapped up in its own mythology, it tries to explain everything, and becomes so convoluted that a reader is easily lost, and at times even distanced from the book.

The novel’s prologue depicts a nameless girl who witnesses her mother being taken in the middle of the night. This is a tightly written scene and prompts you to eagerly read on.

Next we’re introduced to four girls, Beauty, Little Fearless, Soapdish, and Tattle. We learn they’ve bestowed these names upon themselves, based on distinguishing features. The girls’ identities have been taken from them, robbing them of a true identity. We soon meet other girls, also with nicknames.

Perhaps because he’s primarily an author intended for an adult audience, Mr. Lott favors adjectives. Metaphor and simile run rampant. The end result is a book laden with passages such as the following:

“She turned her head toward Tattle, causing a ripple in straight perfect hair, black and blue like midnight.”

“Her eyes were red and scrunched up, like meat from a butcher shop.”

Throughout the course of reading the novel, I honestly felt no sympathy and emotion for the characters. as Little Fearless tries to inform the city dwellers of the cruelty within the “school,” I was slightly moved, but the end result of the novel left me angry and disconnected from the book completely.

Fearless is out in hardback now from Candlewick Press.

Review copy provided by the publisher