Home > dystopian, Genre > Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Series, #1)

Book Review: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Series, #1)

Road against an orange sky.Summary:
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

Source: Amazon

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  1. Terry
    March 10, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Interesting reading your take on the book. I don’t know if I identified with Todd — mostly I saw him as a Huckleberry Finn type character. I agree that his lack of fighting was frustrating, but it’s an important aspect of his character.

    • March 10, 2011 at 9:45 am

      Yeah….if you like having a total pussy as a main character….which I don’t. 😛

  2. March 10, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Nice review. And certainly the most critical of the book that I’ve read so far. I’m keeping it on my wish list, but it sounds like I should lower my expectations a bit.

    • March 11, 2011 at 9:11 am

      Thanks! In general I find that coming at a book without highly elevated expectations tends to make the reading experience better anyway. 🙂

  3. March 11, 2011 at 8:22 am

    It’s a shame you didn’t like this so much! I have to say I wasn’t in love with the first book either although for different reasons – I think I quite liked Todd. I apparently don’t mind wimpy boys. :p But I loved the second and third, I think they had tons and tons to say about our world as well as this one. But I doubt you’ll like Todd any more, so it’s hard to say whether I’d say you should continue or not. Maybe look in the library?

    • March 11, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Hmm, I’m glad to hear that you think the series improves, although I’m not sure given my huge tbr pile right now I’ll be devoting time to it. I guess time will tell! 🙂

  4. Laura
    March 11, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    This has been on my long, long list of things to read for awhile. The middle school librarian I work with thinks it’s more HS appropriate. Your review pushed me to actually getting it from the library — looking forward to an interesting read!

    • March 14, 2011 at 10:01 am

      Oh, hm, there’s an interesting debate! I definitely think middle school aged me would have been fine with this book (in fact may have liked it better), but I was a bit precocious for my age…..

      • Laura
        March 27, 2011 at 11:29 am

        I liked it! I generally agree with your points about plot and even Todd’s stupidity. But overall, I was able to connect with the characters and enjoyed the read.

        I also finished the second book and I have to say that if you didn’t like the first one, you’re pretty much guaranteed to hate the second one.

        And as far as middle school vs. high school, I think it’s okay for middle school, provided there aren’t big concerns about profanity. I can see that being a problem in some schools, even if the content itself is middle school appropriate.

      • March 28, 2011 at 8:54 am

        Haha, that’s what my friend Anna told me about the second book, so I’ve decided not to continue with the series. 😉

        I am glad you enjoyed it though, and honestly, that’s why I have the 3 star rating in existence. Because there are some books I don’t like, but I can still recognize that they are well-written and others will enjoy it themselves.

  5. brandon
    March 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    very nice review. May i ask what is the genre??

    • March 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

      It’s YA dystopian with a touch of scifi. 🙂

  6. November 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Hahaha! Your points about Todd – totally agree. I actually didn’t think about why I didn’t like the book. I felt like the plot was incredibly repetitive and dumb. But the main thing was probably Todd’s personality. He was a dick to his dog, who was a dog and also a good one. He was like, oh boo hoo I can’t read I’m ashamed, but it’s pretty much the end of the fucking world and this girl can fucking read, so why be a douche about it? I didn’t see him as having very much pride. Didn’t make sense.

    I definitely won’t read the second book. I’m glad people like it, but I didn’t understand. And the build-up – we pretty much knew what the “secret” was about halfway through the book. Sigh. I really wanted to like it.

    • November 15, 2011 at 9:45 am

      Well, since I write myself, I view my reading as a chance to learn, so I always try to think about why a book worked for me or not. The main problem with this one is a completely unlikable hero!

      Omg, yes, the refusing to let the girl read, the way he treated Manshee…..I could go on and on, lol.

      I decided a while ago that this is one of those series that stops at the first entry for me, hah.

  7. bentokid
    November 16, 2011 at 12:41 am

    Love this. Great summary. I have just read the second book. Well, you’re right, I didn’t think the first one was a work of genius, and the second one was just annoying. I’m still in junior school…

    • November 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

      Hah! I am glad to see that it’s not just the grown-ups who found him annoying. Glad to see you have good taste.

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