Todd Hewitt is the youngest boy in Prentisstown and in just a month he will become a man.
Todd knows the history of Prentisstown; how the families had arrived twenty years ago from another planet, in search of a place to settle and build a hopeful future. But upon arrival the men caught a virus called Noise which caused their thoughts to float freely in the air, for everyone to hear, and then the women all sickened and died, including Todd’s mother. So now there are no more women, no more children and no more silence.
But just because everyone’s thoughts can be heard doesn’t mean that secrets can’t still be concealed. When Todd is sent into the swamp on an errand by his foster father he is shocked by the discovery of a void within the Noise. Inside one of the decrepit buildings in the swamp he senses a space of pure silence, something that he had never imagined even existed. But because of this discovery Todd is forced to flee Prentisstown, although he has no idea why.
If you intend to read The Knife of Never Letting Go make sure to start early in the morning, on a day when you don’t have anything else planned, because once you begin you won’t want to put this book down.
The story begins right as Todd and his talking dog Manchee (because animals have also been effected by the Noise virus) make the discovery which will forever change Todd’s life. From that point on the tension quickly escalates and the pace speeds up so that I found myself tearing through the pages, unable to put the book down. Ness certainly knows how to pull readers in and keep them hooked. By offering tantalizing hints about Prentisstown’s secrets, without actually revealing very much, the story held me captive until the very end, when all is finally revealed.
But while the story is fast paced and intense I never found the tension too overwhelming, as I sometimes do with such books. There were some well placed interludes in the story that give both the characters and the readers a chance to catch their breath and rest for a bit, before things heated up again. For me this is important because if a book is unrelentingly dark and grim I sometimes have trouble getting myself to keep reading it, bit this was never the case here.
The book's protagonists are engaging and sympathetic, especially Todd, in whose voice the story is told. He comes across as both innocent and fierce. He longs to become a man, counting down each day until his birthday, though at the same time he struggles to understand what being a man actually entails.
Now I want to make a few comments about the ending which I was pretty disappointed with for several reasons, which I will explain in a bit more depth below. While I don’t intend to give a way any spoilers you still might want to skip the next couple of paragraphs if you haven’t yet read the book. If you have read it I would be interested in hearing what your thoughts are.
So, I was not at all happy with the discouraging way the story ended. I wanted the end to provide some meaning and purpose for Todd’s difficult travails; some remuneration other than just a Big Reveal (most of which I had already figured out by then). Instead Todd gets a shocking disappointment that seems to land him back in square one and a cliff hanger that makes me wary about picking up the next book. Who wants to open a door knowing there is a tiger on the other side, about to pounce?
I was also unsatisfied with the reasoning given for why Aaron and the Prentisstown men were hunting Todd. Neither motive made much sense to me and I felt let-down when all the cards were finally put on the table.
---End of spoiler----
While I thoroughly enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go the disappointing ending has left me a little wary about reading the sequels, just in case Ness follows the same pattern there. If not for the unsatisfying ending I would have ranked The Knife of Never Letting Go up there with one of my favorite YA dystopia books, The Hunger Games. But despite my feeling about the way the book is concluded I still say it's an excellent book that I would highly recommend.