The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Right, let’s start by pigeon hole-ing this book and then let’s tear that apart. The Knife of Never Letting Go is a teenage novel, or a cross over novel or a coming of age novel. All these terms to try and broaden the audience and subsequently the selling power. Pullman’s Northern Lights really started this off in a major way and then Harry Potter blew it out of the water. Which is funny because the first few HPs were nothing to do with coming of age and definitely didn’t have challenging subject matters. Publishers suddenly seem confused about a book where the main protagonist is a teenager. Is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time a children’s book? The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas? Those two started as children’s books and moved straight over to the adult market. I wonder how Lord of the Flies would be marketed these days? Nowadays the books are released in two covers, one for children, one for adults but identical content. And what fabulous, exciting, challenging, thoughtful books there are out there at the moment.

So The Knife, is a children’s book but adults will really enjoy it; now the next reason not to pick it up is that it’s Science Fiction. Well, that would never stop me but I know loads of people who don’t read SciFi and would never pick this up. But then they would also miss out on Jules Verne, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing. Sci fi allows you to place humans in novel situations and imagine how they would react. Anyone interested in the human psyche should read good science fiction.

So having said what it is and what it isn’t what I can say, hand on heart, is that it’s a great read! It starts with a challenging premise; a settler community  has been struck down by two disasters, the first is that everyone can hear everyone else’s thought and that there is no way to block them out and secondly that all the women died out 15 years ago. Our protagonist is the youngest child left and is soon to embark on the ritual of manhood. This  is what provides the crises for the novel. The arrival of a stranger and their flight from the community provides the momentum as secrets are revealed and truths exposed. Todd is a lovely hero, he’s so flawed and weak and hopeless that you completely believe in him. When it counts you can never be certain that he’ll do the right thing, he’s a confused boy who’s world has been turned on it’s head and he frequently messes things up.

The book has a central horrific “secret” which is revealed at then end and I must admit I found the way it was constantly alluded to as pretty annoying. It’s all rather obvious and clumsy but it’s a minor complaint. The book races along as our pair flee the army and the tension stays tight right up to a great cliff hanger.

I love the way this story considers how life must be where there is no privacy, no secrets and no women.  It’s ceratinly not a happy scenario.  I’m looking forward to seeing what my 11 year old boys makes of this one.  He’s used to heros that can save the world from global terrorists with just a knife and a mobile phone ala Alex Rider, so I wonder what he’ll make of this more realistic hero.

I’ve now finished The Ask and the Answer, book 2, and I’ll review that separately.

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