Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Series, #1)
Todd grew up on New World knowing only the constant Noise of other men’s thoughts all around him. He’s never known a world where a boy couldn’t hear his dog talk or where women weren’t all killed off by a horrible plague. Now, mere days before his 13th birthday when he will become a man, his world is turned upside down when his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, tell him to run. Run past the swamp. Run and find another settlement. A settlement he never knew existed on New World. He runs with his dog, Manchee, and on the way, they find a creature. A creature whose thoughts they cannot hear.
This book came recommended to me by three different friends, and I can see based on the summary why they would do so. It’s a dystopia on another planet with talking animals and a narrator who speaks in a mix of rural Americana and British English. The fact is though, I wound up not enjoying this book, and it probably would have been a “did not finish” if I’d had a print copy I could re-sell instead of an ebook I couldn’t. So what’s wrong with it?
Not the world-building. That was truly excellent. The wordle-like clouds of Noise that Todd can hear really bring that aspect of New World to life. Similarly, what the animals say are appropriate to their various evolutionary levels, from Manchee’s partial toddler-like sentences to the herd of elephants who simply say “here” over and over to keep the herd together. Every single scene on New World is easily imaginable in spite of it being quite a foreign location from the buildings to the presence of Noise.
The plot itself isn’t bad but also isn’t amazing. There’s a secret in Todd’s village that we discover at the end of the book that, frankly, did not live up to the build-up. However, that in and of itself doesn’t make me dislike a book. The plot was enough to keep me intrigued, which is the important part, even if in the end it is a bit disappointing.
After much thought I’ve realized that it’s the characters that kept me from enjoying the book, particularly Todd who is also the narrator. I just cannot relate to him at all. I’ve managed to relate to first person narrators ranging from lunatics to serial killers to girly girls to devout Catholics, but Todd is utterly unrelatable to me. He is just so incredibly fucking stupid. Not stupid in the mentally handicapped way. Stupid in the willfully ignorant way that makes me just want to slap him upside the head. For instance, he has this book the whole journey that Ben tells him will explain everything, yet he never sits down to read it. He takes forever to admit he struggles with reading and ask someone else to read it. This is information he needs, and yet he persists in willfully ignoring it. He reminds me of the kids in highschool who wouldn’t do their homework because it wasn’t “cool.” Similarly, I’m sorry, but he’s kind of a pussy, and that irks me. He is fighting not just for himself but for the safety of his dog and another person, but he refuses to man up. I found myself siding with the villains in this regard, and I’m sure that’s not what the author wanted. Similarly, I do not understand why it takes him so long to come around to appreciating Manchee even though he can hear his thoughts from day one and knows that Manchee loves him unconditionally. What the hell, Todd? How are you such an unfeeling idiot, eh? In the end, I simply could not enjoy the book, because although I felt appropriate loathing for the villains, I also loathed the hero and just could not bring myself to care about his plight. The only character I was rooting for at all was Manchee, and that’s not enough to carry a dystopian adventure.
I’m sure there are people out there who can either identify with Todd or empathize with him. For those people who can do so and also enjoy a dystopian adventure, I recommend this book. Anyone who thinks they’ll be even remotely irritated by Todd should stay far away though.
3 out of 5 stars