Dead – a review of Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go

Upon doing some research for this book, such as finding out the publication year, which was 2008 by the way, I was surprised to uncover that it was categorized as a young adult and children’s novel! Young adult, I could understand. But CHILDREN?!

I’m both surprised and amused.

The content of the book is fun, if not a bit intense, and so I was (pleasantly…?) shocked to know it was also intended for children. We don’t give kids enough credit—they’re equally as crazy and weird and can handle mature topics. I was also amused, because I grew up in a small town with a lot of white moms who were very concerned with the books we read in school. I wondered if The Knife of Never Letting Go would ever become a classroom title, which I hope it does, and I’m curious to see how some parents would react regarding the subject matter.


It’s a story about colonization, death, and so much more. Hey, if Harry Potter can get banned, The Knife of Never Letting Go might get burned. (I’m joking; please don’t burn books.)

As the first part of The Chaos Walking Trilogy, this opening novel was ultimately a survival/chase tale.

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in Prentisstown to become a man at age 13. Prentisstown, a small farmer’s town in the ‘New World,’ described as a distant planet humans have begun to colonize, is no ordinary town. There are only men, no women, and all the men in town can hear each other’s thoughts like a constant stream of noise. In a town where everyone’s minds could be explored, you’d think it’d be a bit difficult to keep a secret, however, upon Todd’s 13th birthday, he was going to learn the town’s ultimate dark secret. What happened to the women?

Prior to his birthday, Todd and his best friend/dog, Manchee, came across a place in the swamp outside of town, where he could hear no noise—not even Manchee’s thoughts. He realized the reason for this was a girl, named Viola, who had crash-landed there while trying to head to the ‘New World’ with her parents. Todd goes back to town to ask for help, but accidentally projects his thoughts to everyone. He is chased, and his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, fought off his attackers to allow him to escape for his life. Aaron, a member of the town, aggressively chases Todd. Viola gets caught up in the mix, and they both decide to head to a larger town called Haven, seeking protection from Mayor Prentiss and the murderous men from Prentisstown.


It is difficult to talk about my impression of The Knife of Never Letting Go without spoiling some parts of the story, so I’m just going to warn you now that the next part will be spoiler-filled, and the latter parts may or may not be sprinkled with this or that.

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Upon their arrival on ‘New World,’ the initial group of colonists making up Prentisstown were infected by a virus passed by the natives. Men can hear each other’s thoughts, but women can’t. Driven mad, the men killed the women, and this terrifying secret was kept from the children. Prentisstown was banished from the rest of the ‘New World’ due to this horror, and for Todd to be accepted in other towns in the ‘New World,’ his thoughts must be pure. To protect him, Ben and Cillian sent him away before his 13th birthday, the birthday when boys turn into men in Prentisstown, because they would be forced to kill someone, and then be told the secret about what happened to all the women. Aaron chased Todd so vehemently throughout the novel, because Aaron was supposed to be the person killed by the last boy, a high honor, in his mind.

So here is my impression of it all: WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? THAT’S SO INTENSE! THAT’S SO DARK! THAT’S SO GOOOOOOOD!

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The Knife of Never Letting Go is a modern narrative about colonization, dehumanization, slavery, sexism, racism, violence, accountability, and good ol’ human pettiness. It’s an intense page turner, tearing your heart into bits with tension and excitement and concern, all at once. When your protagonist is chased by a psychopath who could hear his thoughts, things get a little scary, okay? This novel was chilling, and Patrick Ness’s way of storytelling has an urgent elegance about it that I personally really enjoy.

The characters are all different and three-dimensional. I’ve also rarely came across any literary character as scary as Aaron—he got half his face eaten by a crocodile and STILL chased after Todd for half the book!


I had a wonderfully entertaining time reading this novel, and despite it looking a little thick, it was an incredibly fast read. I expected myself to feel, because Patrick Ness’s writing is rather touching. But I didn’t expect myself to feel this much. The over-heard thoughts, Manchee, Viola, the chaos and noise, it was all incredible and overwhelming and I loved it. I was killed by the emotions.

 

Rating:

🔪 🔪 🔪 🔪 🔪

“Without a filter, a man is just chaos walking.”

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