book review · shanti

The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Hi Virtually Readers! A long time ago (when I was about 13), I read this book. Shar gave me a copy for my birthday, and I reread it, and noticed a lot more. There’s a lot going on in this story, and it’s clever, raw, and sophisticated, as well as having lots of interesting social commentary. But it’s also just a good story. It has all the essential ingredients, like a distinctive writing style, symbolism, thematic elements, and a complex plot.

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Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?There’s lots of stuff going on with the style and formatting of Knife, which I could analyse a lot if I was in my literature class. But I’m not, so here is what I noticed: there is a lot of repetition, a lot of sentences ending in em dashes and a lot of run on sentences and in the action scenes these are particularly noticeable and they just describe everything that’s happening and this made it really easy to follow and I liked that. Ness also plays with font and formatting elements to show the ‘Noise’, the thoughts that can be heard. This is not elegant writing. This is not graceful writing. This is not beautiful writing it’s—
but it worked so well to show the characters state of mind, and opened up the world for us. The writing skill, that it seemed so not polished, and yet worked so well left me in awe. Even Todd’s spelling and word choice ‘explaynashun’ and ‘we don’t say no more’ told us stuff about his education. And yet the writing is never overwhelming or confusing—unless it’s meant to be, as in Noisy parts.
Then there’s the knife. this book could just as easily have been called ‘The Choice of Never Letting Go’ or ‘Growing Up and Never Letting Go’, because the knife is that obvious of a symbol. It’s not supposed to to be subtle (though there are a bunch of other symbols that you could try to figure out). The knife is easy, obvious. The knife is a choice, the choice to kill. The knife is given as you leave home, and it shows that you’ve grown up. The knife reminds you that you’re a coward, or maybe brave, that you’re a man now. It symbolises a lot of different things, especially the choices that Todd must make, and so is a symbol that evolves through the novel. Close to the start, we’re told that “a knife ain’t just a thing, is it? It’s a choice, it’s something you do A knife says yes or no, cut or not, die or don’t. A knife takes the decision out of your hands and puts it in the world and it never goes back again”. By the end of the story, Todd’s relationship to the knife has evolved, though it has not. He lets go of the knife in some symbolic ways, but the character development that it has given him remains.
Then there are the ideas this book plays with. I write this review assuming you know the basic premise: New world. Religious settlers. Men hear thoughts. Secrets abound. Adorable talking dog. Violence and war. Aliens. Promises broken and kept. The ‘Noise’ of thoughts is a commentary on interconnectedness and lack of privacy. It’s extreme, though, and the idea that there are things we can’t control and can, depending on the situation—thoughts, of course, being exemplary of this—is key to the story. With the fact that women have privacy, at least in thoughts, Todds realisation that there’s more than Noise and secrets is more profound—particularly so, perhaps, considering the advent of social media. Of course, there’s you average YA narrative of growing up. But the context of discovering that “The world keeps getting bigger” makes it so much more powerful.
To finish, here are two of my favourite quotes from this story.
“‘History ain’t so important when yer just trying to survive'[…]
‘That’s actually when it’s most important'”
“Doing what’s right should be easy. It shouldn’t be just another big mess like everything else.”
It’s safe to say that this book is amazing, and it gets better as the series goes along. I thoroughly recommend.

So have you read this book? And what is one of your favourite books with a very distinctive writing style? tell me in the comments.

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15 thoughts on “The Knife of Never Letting Go.

  1. I’ve never read this book (I know, I know — shame on me) but I’ve heard so many good things about it! Hopefully I’ll be able to read it once I find some time 🙂

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  2. I have read this one!! *flails* I LOVED IT (although a certain twist about a certain character I loved a lot absolutely broke me and damaged me beyond belief). I haven’t read the sequels though and I’ve kind of forgotten too many things of the first book to keep going? So I shall re-read and then read the rest eventually. 😂 I do so love books with weird and wonderful formatting! Illuminae is probably my favourite!

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    1. This is so superb though ohmigosh that TWIST was HEARTRENDING. You should reread–they are wildly chaotic and brilliantly nuanced and quite political and sad and violent and all the good things.

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  3. I read the entire series but that was many many moons ago, so I don’t remember much about the stylings. But I do remember I really enjoyed the series. I am reading his A Monster Calls this week!

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  4. yes I have read this and the next one.. I love the moral ambiguity where Todd is not all good, gets mixed up in some bad stuff he can’t control. This is not goodies vs baddies. Its kind of more like life. Some little details about the new world did not work (like how did they replace metal items and make new bullets etc) but no worries, the internal and external dilemmas for Todd were great. The Mayor was brilliantly evil too, and the ending was not happy. Life again. Good read. Nah, excellent.

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    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the books–nuance and moral ambiguity is very important, because it’s real life. I guess there are some internal inconsistencies, but look, not all YA is cliched love stories SO DON’T TEASE ME ABOUT THAT.

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  5. I haven’t read this book, but it’s on my TBR and since I just finished reading Ness’ A Monster Calls which was AMAZING, it’s made me want to read his other books right away. I definitely agree with what you said about him having a distinctive writing style – I noticed that with A Monster Calls, too. He makes some very deliberate word choices and doesn’t seem to waste a single word.

    Nice review!

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  6. I’ve been meaning to read this book ever since reading Ness’ More Than This and LOVING it. One of my favorite books with a distinctive writing style is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. The writing is so beautiful!!

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    1. I love All the Light We Cannot See–it’s such a clever book. I haven’t read More Than this (though maybe I should give it a try), and I hope you get a chance to read this one.

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