The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness

Young Adult fiction always deals with the same issue: growing up. When is the right time to grow up? How do you know if you have grown up already? Is there really a need to grow up? Or is it possible to just stay young?

Todd Hewitt looks forward to his 13th birthday, the day he will become a man in the standards of Prentisstown, a town once plagued with the Noise virus that made everyone hear everyone’s thoughts. A month before Todd’s birthday, his parents, albeit grudgingly, had to let him off the town, in fear for his life, his safety, away from the dark secret of Prentisstown.

People stress on knowing everything, from the motivation of the gesture, to the meaning of acts, to the thoughts that are running through one’s mind. Ness creates this town where everyone, more specifically, every man can hear each other’s thoughts.

It was here that we see the depth of man.

We see how violence and women are almost always in their minds. The deepest and darkest secrets of men lay open for a fellow man to hear and judge.

The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, man is just chaos walking.

It is probably a scary thought, having to hear  one’s thoughts every time, not having the option to tune out and pick through one’s mind, but having to hear them all.

Brilliant.

But what puzzles me is the fact that it was only the men that were affected by the Noise. The women were unaffected. They had their thoughts all to themselves, but they still had the ability to hear men’s thoughts. You’d think it would be bliss, but then Ness presents the reality of man’s thinking: what you do not know is dangerous, which brought the people of Prentisstown the brilliant, otherwise irrational idea of killing all the women.

Open and known = Safe
Unknown = Unsafe

Yes, men are black and white. As expected, the rational thing to do on “unsafe” objects is to eliminate them—eliminate the women.

Things with no noise can sneak up on you. Sneak right up on you like they ain’t even there.

(Just as I am writing this review, the song with the lyrics “if you could read my mind, came on the TV. Oh gods, please, I won’t ever wish for this to happen.)

It is brutal. It is against all sorts of moral standards, but come to think of it. It is logical. I mean, why would you let something that you consider “unsafe” around you?

Before you throw a curse at me, let me tell you that no, I do not agree that that was the right thing to do, but it is the hmm, sound decision.

Now, if men will spend the rest of their lives in plain black and white, always going for the safe option, imagine how life would be. On the other towns where men are braver to take a risk and live with people they consider “unsafe,” and has risked their (false sense of) security, in exchange of an apparently happier life.

Todd continues on his running away with his dog, Manchee, and the girl he met, Viola. Todd gains a friend, something he has not expected, but as all friendships with teens are, everything is just so endearing, oozing with all cuteness.

“Shush,” I say, not wanting to scare the girl any more. Being this close to her silence is like my heart breaking all over the place. I can feel it, like it’s pulling me down into a bottomless pit, like it’s calling for me to just fall and fall and fall.

Viola’s next to me and as I slurp away, there’s her silence again. It’s a two-way the thing, this is. However clear she can hear my Noise, well, out here alone, away from the chatter of others or the Noise if a settlement, there’s silence, loud as a roar, pulling at me like the great sadness ever, like I want to take it and press myself into it and just disappear forever down into nothing.

What amuses me more is the foundation of their friendship. Viola turns out to be the hard hand that pushes Todd’s back whenever he feels like giving up. For someone who is literally foreign to the New World, Viola sure is tough and brave. While Todd had all these thoughts running in his head, trying to figure out what is the town’s secret, why was an army following a boy and was determined to kill him, Viola, as well, protected as she was, continues to be Todd’s light, guiding him along the road to “manhood.”

But what makes a man, a man?

One man’s life was given over a boy to end, all on his own.

A man dies, a man is born.
Everyone complicit. Everyone guilty.

In Prentisstown, you have to be 13 for you to be called a man. Thus, comes the traditions of debut, 18 for girls, and 21 for boys. Viola come in with probably one retort that was a hard bxtch slap to those thinking that maturity comes with age.

“How can you keep saying that he’s a man and you’re not? Just because of some stupid birthday?”

Yes, it is stupid. Age is but a number, and yeah, experience may come with this number, but this is not always the case as proven by Todd and Viola’s adventures. As young as he was, Todd was evidently more of a man that say, Aaron, and perhaps almost a half of the people that they met in their journey. Experience will turn you into a man, not age.

 I look up to him. His face and his Noise are as blank as I can remember but the lesson of forever and ever is that knowing a man’s mind ain’t knowing the man.

“War is a monster,” he says, almost to himself, “War is the devil. It starts and it grows and grows and grows.” He’s looking at me now. “And otherwise normal men become monsters, too.”

And we all know, the grown up world is scary for young kids like our protagonists. Even grown ups are afraid of their own world, but there is one thing that is always admirable in the youth—their indomitable spirit over uncertainty. Even in the absence of hope.

“Do you believe there is hope at the end?” I ask.
“No,” she says simply, looking away. “No, I don’t but I’m still going.” She eyes me. “You coming with?”

For someone who has been through disillusionment, Todd, with the help of Viola, has remained strong until he reached the promised land of safety, Haven. Or is it?

I pull on her arms gently to make sure she’s listening.
“Think the asking is whether we get up back again.”
And the water’s rushing by and we’re shaking from the cold and everything else and she stares at me and I wait and I hope.

The Knife of Never Letting Go was furiously paced, with the right mix of action and drama. And as all series are, my heart was put into intense torture upon ending the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy. My heart raced with every adventure, I hated Aaron and all those evil people of Prentisstown, and good lord, I weep when Manchee died.

As Sasha has said, “starting on a series is a commitment.” With commitment issues or without, this is one commitment I am happy to be tied to.

I need to get hold of The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men.

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