The Knife of Never Letting Go

Bibliographic Information:

Ness, P. (2008). The knife of never letting go. Cambridge, Mass: Candlewick Press. (978-0-7636-3931-0)

Chaos Walking trilogy, book 1

Plot Summary:

Todd Hewitt does not know what it means to have any privacy. He lives in a town where everyone – every male – can hear the thoughts of every other male in the town. There are no women left. They were killed when the Spackle, the native species of the planet, released the germ. The side effect of the germ is that men can hear each other’s thoughts. Now, there is always Noise.

Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown. Before he becomes a man, his adoptive parents, Ben and Cillian, force him to flee before the ceremony. Confused, he takes his mother’s diary and heads into the swamp where he is shocked to find a girl whose spaceship crash-landed, killing her parents.

Now, Todd and the girl start a journey where Todd will learn all he knew was a lie and that it is hard to hide from yourself – and others – when your thoughts can never be private.

Critical Evaluation:

I was once told that a great book will hook you in the first paragraph. The Knife of Never Letting Go has one of the most memorable first paragraphs I have read in a long time:

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say. About anything.

“Need a poo, Todd.”

“Shut up, Manchee.”

“Poo. Poo. Todd.”

“I said shut it.”

There are no profound words of wisdom in these lines, no lyrical imagery or evocative phrases. But, there is enough to catch the curiosity of the reader and to hook him into the tale. That light touch of humour is sprinkled throughout this terribly beautiful tale.

Aside from the plot, which I think is tightly woven, there are two things I particularly appreciate in this tale. First, is the pacing. Ness, as a marathon runner, understands the need to set a pace and keep to it even when your legs are burning and you do not think you can catch another breath. Ness writes the same way. He starts the tale in the middle and keeps moving. He has cut away the extraneous pieces; all that is left is the muscle.

I also appreciate Todd’s voice. He has kept Todd real with the rhythm of the language and the slang-like dialect. He is confused. He makes mistakes. He survives. Because the reader can relate to Todd as a real person the rest of the story also becomes believable. He takes the reader into his world.

Reader’s Annotation:

In a town without women where men can hear each other’s thoughts how can one lone boy be alone?

Ness scholasticInformation About the Author:

Patrick Ness has two very different biographies. His personal one is quirky and firmly roots him in the world of supernatural writing. His professional one focuses briefly on his life and delves into his works.

Although Ness was born in Virginia, he admits he has never been back. As an army brat he has lived in Hawaii, Washington, and California. He has called England home since 1999.

Ness studied English Literature at the University of Southern California. He always wanted to be an author so he has tried to make sure all his jobs were related to writing. As a result, he worked as a corporate writer at a cable company, freelanced as a journalist, and taught Creative Writing at Oxford University. He has written for a number of English papers including The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement.

An interesting factoid about Ness is that “under no circumstances will I eat onions.” Disappointing for me – I don’t think he will be coming to dinner at my home any time soon.

For more information please visit Patrick Ness’ website

Genre:

  • Science fiction
  • Dystopian
  • Adventure

Curriculum Ties:

  • Media classes to discuss the concept of writing for ones’ audience and tone.
  • Expository writing and persuasive writing.

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Stream of consciousness
  • Books with slang
  • If dogs could take quotes
  • Book trailer by Christie Kimsey created for educational purposes for INLS 530 at UNC Chapel Hill.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Reading level 5.6

Challenge Issues:

  • Violence

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
  • Ask if he/she has read the book
  • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  1. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection
  • Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion documents
  • Provide school’s selection policy
  • Provide list of reviews/lists
  1. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

Why did you include this book?:

I read a lot of books from a lot of different genres and age ranges. I like to be able to find the right reader for the right book. But when my students ask me for my favorite books I do have to admit I have a preference for two things in a book; a protagonist with a distinct voice and interesting language. I love authors that play with words. Ness revels in words.

Awards:

  • Winner of the 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize
  • Winner of the 2008 Guardian Award
  • Winner of the 2008 James Tiptree, Jr. Award
  • Shortlisted for the 2009 Carnegie Medal
  • Longlisted for the 2009 Manchester Book Award

References:

“Patrick Ness” (n.d.). Retreived from http://www.candlewick.com/authill.asp?b=Author&m=bio&id=3327&pix=y

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