Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.57: Dystopian Fiction and the Forcening Continues

This week, the Reading the End Bookcast has a very special announcement! But you’ll have to wait until the end of the episode to hear what it is. Meanwhile, we’re talking about dystopian fiction and finishing up the Forcening1 with Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go (sorry, Whiskey Jenny). You can listen to the podcast in the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

What We’re Reading

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers
(also, I watched Ex Machina and it was creepy)
Does Jesus Really Love Me?, Jeff Chu
The Scam, Janet Evanovich
Tricky Twenty-Two, Janet Evanovich
Flip Flop Fly Ball, Craig Robinson

Dystopian Fiction

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
1984, George Orwell
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick (also on Amazon Prime)
Saga, Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Mort(e), Robert Repino (our pal!)
The Scorpion Rules, Erin Bow (READ THIS ONE IT IS GOOD)
Delirium, Lauren Oliver
Matched, Ally Condie
Zone One, Colson Whitehead
The Passage, Justin Cronin
Radio Silence, Alyssa Cole

The Forcening, Part II

The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness

Reading for Next Time

All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Song is by Jeff MacDougall

  1. h/t to the Extra Hot Great podcast for the name

#BBAW: Book Recommendations

Today is the hardest topic of all the topics for Book Blogger Appreciation Week (hosted, again, by me and Ana and Andi and Heather, over at the Estella Society); or I should say rather, the very easiest. To wit:

Day 3 What have you read and loved because of a fellow blogger?

What haven’t I read and loved because of a fellow blogger? Before blogging, my reading life was on its way to becoming a tragic wasteland. I had exhausted the recommendations of my friends and relations and was reduced to — this is not a joke — examining college syllabi for various English classes, under the assumption that they would contain recommendations for New Classics.

Since then, all my newly acquired favorite authors have been by way of fellow book bloggers, and I am basically dead from gratitude. Perhaps I would one day have discovered Helen Oyeyemi, because she wins the prizes and is a literary darling (in a minor way); but who can say if ever I would have discovered some of the, for instance, YA authors that I now cherish? Maggie Stiefvater, Kekla Magoon, Patrick Ness? Would I only have discovered them when movie adaptations of their books were made?

Not to mention (but oh, I shall mention it) the curating of comic books done for me by my fellow book bloggers! Where would I have learned which Marvel comics to read? Would Paper Girls be on my TBR list now? (Doubtful.) Would I know about the Tamakis? Princeless? WOULD I?

Stop by the Estella Society to see what else people have been reading because of other book bloggers! And as usual, I love you all. Kisses!

 

The most important link here is the last one.

A new book by an art director at Alfred Knopf explores cover art and the work done by book jackets. He has another book out at the same time about visualizing while we read, and they both look brilliant. Here he is at Slate.com talking about the former. I have the latter checked out of the library, and it is gorgeous and strange.

I want to hug MTV for creating this resource “See This, Say That.” These aren’t necessarily the exact things I’d recommend saying in these situations, but I dig that MTV is making the effort here. One of my big rants is about the insufficiency of models in popular culture for confronting prejudiced speech and behavior. (Or, like, confronting things, period?)

Two excellent recent archaeological discoveries: 1) a tomb from the era of Alexander the Great; 2) half of the Vikings whose bones we have turned out to be ladies. THIS IS SO COOL. I love it when archaeologists find things, and I am feeling particularly fond of the profession right now after reading Marilyn Johnson’s forthcoming Lives in Ruins.

If geek girls acted like geek guys (from The Mary Sue)

I have heard a lot of good buzz for Kameron Hurley’s new book The Mirror Empire. If you’re looking for something to read for A More Diverse Universe (coming up later this month!), maybe give that one a try!

If you’re not watching Face Off on Syfy, I highly highly highly recommend it. Make-up artists compete against each other to create cool things, and unlike many reality competition shows, these guys don’t fight with each other constantly. They are nice and supportive — in the August 26th episode, one competitor cut off some of her own hair and gave it to another competitor to use on their creature. Real story. Plus, they create awesome creatures. Here’s the winner from the episode where you had to mash up Wizard of Oz and Wonderland, and I think you will agree it is objectively amazing.

SO SO COOL RIGHT?

Racist shitbags attack Malorie Blackman for wanting diversity in children’s literature. Because of course they do. Malorie Blackman is predictably cool about it. Patrick Ness is furious about the whole affair.

I read this whole wonderful Buzzfeed article about the creation of Empire Records in a frenzy of glee before realizing it was written by Anne Helen Petersen. OF COURSE IT WAS. THAT LADY.

The prologue and first chapter of Blue Lily, Lily Blue have been made available on Scribd. I don’t have to tell you how many times I have read it. Why is it not October yet?

The Crane Wife, Patrick Ness

The beginning: A man wakes up in the middle of the night and finds a wounded crane on his front lawn. Carefully, he extracts an arrow from its wing so that it can fly away. He tells it his name, George. The next day a woman called Kumiko enters his life, and everything changes.

The end (spoilers in this section only; highlight ’em if you want ’em): I predicted this correctly in my brain. I am not familiar with the story of the Crane Wife, but I feel like anyone who has ever read a fairy tale knew what was going to happen in the end of this story. Kumiko leaves/dies. The end does not specifically say so, but I am confident that this occurs as a result of George’s not being able to control his curiosity about her life apart from him.

The whole: First, a word about fairy tales. I have to tell you that I just absolutely love fairy tales. I love them so much. I love them to infinity. I love their unflinching rules. I love when the decisions of the magic in fairy tales are final, and I love when there are second chances. I love how people keep releasing new retellings of their favorite stories with beautiful, evocative illustrations in watercolor or woodcuts or pen and ink. But mainly I love how totally insane they are:

Not far off [the sausage] met with a dog on the road, who looking upon the sausage as lawful prey, had picked him up, and made an end of him. The bird then lodged a complaint against the dog as an open and flagrant robber, but it was all no good, as the dog declared that he had found forged letters upon the sausage, so that he deserved to lose his life.

Sure. Sometimes that’s the way it goes for a sentient sausage. Later in the story the mouse tries to use its body to stir the soup, the way the sausage always did, and it boils alive; and the bird drowns while trying to get water from the well. This is a real story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The story of the Crane Wife, from Japan, has the man marrying the crane woman, and she makes very beautiful clothes, so beautiful that they sell for a lot of money and make the man and the crane women wealthy. The crane woman does all this on the condition that the man will never, ever come to watch her while she makes the clothes. But his curiosity (of course) gets the best of him, and he peeks in at her while she’s working. There he sees her transformed again into a crane and pulling out her own feathers to weave into the clothes. When she catches him looking, she flies away. (Cf. East of the Sun, West of the Moon; and the story of Cupid and Psyche; among many others.)

If I had a problem with The Crane Wife, it would be that Patrick Ness does not always quite succeed in blending the logic that fairy tales have (and her creations were so beautiful that every one who saw them fell into a sickness of yearning for them type thing)–which, again, I love and am perfectly willing to accept as part of a story–with the real-life elements. In some areas this does work. The sudden wild success of Kumiko’s tiles feels magical in the way fairy tale riches do, and George’s curiosity and desperation to know her is beautifully set up and played out.

The story works less well when dealing with George’s daughter, Amanda, and her life as a lonely single mother. It feels like Amanda’s part of a separate world, and for a while that was okay. Her story–encounters with the ex who dumped her, struggles to make friends with the unfriendly women at work, worrying about her kid–reminds you that even if George is living halfway in a fairy tale, everyone around him has to be part of the real world. But when Amanda’s story overlaps with Kumiko and gets a little more mystical and fairy-tale-ish, it feels contrived.

Have y’all read this yet? Any thoughts on what makes it not quite work? Or if you think it does work, any thoughts on why I’m wrong?

American cover
American cover
British cover
British cover

Cover report: American cover wins by a lot. Admittedly I am a sucker for art with houses in it, but even setting that aside, I just think the American cover is more visually interesting. I’d pick up the book based on the American cover, and I wouldn’t based on the British cover.

Note: I received this ebook from the publisher via Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.

More Than This, Patrick Ness

PATRICK NESS PATRICK NESS. I love me some Patrick Ness, and here is his brand-new book coming out tomorrow so PLACE YOUR ORDERS because Patrick Ness is amazing.

The beginning: A boy called Seth drowns. When he wakes up (from death), he is at the house in England where, through some unspecified but terrible fault of Seth’s, an unspecified but terrible Event with lasting neurological consequences befell his younger brother Owen. Seth has not lived in England for years; his family lives in America now, and he goes to an American school and has American friends. But here he is — dead, evidently — and all alone in this long-empty house on a long-empty street in a long-empty British town.

This is…a lot of aloneness. Where are the other people? There is too much aloneness! Is this going to be a mystical sort of book where he’s all alone the whole time and the only other characters we meet are in the flashbacks? And then it ends with him finding peace? I really don’t want that to be what’s up.

The end (spoilers in this section only; highlight blank spaces to see them): Oooo, wow, y’all, that is not at all what is up with this book. I discovered many juicy details from the end. I also did some judicious searching around to discover what exactly happened to Owen, because the last chapter or so wasn’t giving up the secret. Evidently Owen got kidnapped by an escaped convict and found three days later, and he was not the same after that (Seth was supposed to be watching him). Also, apparently, Seth drowned himself on purpose. The other characters (hooray, there are other characters) and Seth all seem to be substantially unimpressed with him about this.

But the real news from reading the end is that something is legitimately up with the world Seth is in. It seems like a sci-fi kind of situation (unclear), and Seth has these two afterlife buddies who are figuring shit out with him. I am so glad I read the end. I am now very excited for the rest of the book.

Note from the future: Turns out there were some fairly key plot points I did not catch on to by reading the end. That’s okay. That can happen sometimes. I’d like to mention them here, but I want to be truthful about what it is like to read the way I read.

The whole: Fwoof. At the beginning of this book, Patrick Ness describes what it is like for Seth to drown, how he keeps getting buffeted by wave after wave, and he can’t catch his breath, and it never ends. This is not altogether dissimilar to the experience of reading a book by Patrick Ness. The night before the day I finished reading More Than This, I stayed up late reading — intending to finish it! — but I hit the two-thirds mark and needed a breather. Because Patrick Ness really really does not let up. (You will know this if you have read his Chaos Walking books.) It’s just event after revelation after revelation after event.

To be clear, I loved it, and I expect I will love it even more when I own my own (physical) copy. There is something about the experience of turning the pages of a Patrick Ness book that is imperfectly recreated when reading electronically. I loved so many things about it that I just want to rave and jump up and down, but instead I will be try to be chill and enumerate its virtues in measured tones.

The fault in More Than This is that it is a little slow to get going. Ordinarily one does not imagine that one will have to read the end of a Patrick Ness book to gain momentum, because if there is one thing the Chaos Walking books have, it is momentum. More Than This begins with Seth spending an awful lot of time alone in his new world, being pleased that he’s found a windbreaker or whatever. Luckily there are flashbacks to his life before, and the events that led up to his drowning, and those were wonderful and melancholy and touching. But Seth’s aloneness depressed me. I wanted more things to be happening in his weird afterlife present.

Maybe a third of the way through, Seth meets up with two other denizens of his strange afterlife world, Regine and Tomasz, and then we are off to the races. The events in the afterlife are suddenly so gripping, and meanwhile we continue to learn more about Seth’s life and what happened with Owen and what happened with Gudmund. This moment — when he meets Regine and Tomasz and the Driver — was the moment at which I realized I was going to be up very, very, very late reading this book.

I love about Patrick Ness how he treats diversity like a given. I am not sure how to describe this. Regine and Tomasz and Seth all come from very very different backgrounds, and their gender and ethnicity and sexuality has made a huge difference to the people they are, but none of those things are the point of them — as people or as characters. Indeed, one of the themes of this book — a theme I loved so hard and I bet Ana did too — is that no one thing is the point of anyone. Not your demographics nor your saddest day nor the worst deed you ever did are the point of you. People are always more than this.

More Than This also features a healthy dose of plausible deniability. Regine and Tomasz are certain they know what’s happening, and they are able to find plenty of evidence to bolster their beliefs. Seth believes them, mostly, but there are times when he thinks that this might all be happening inside his head. Because he and his friends are in perpetual danger, he has to act as though the world is real. Still, there are times when he has serious, serious doubts about its reality. The case for what Seth believes is not weak. The case for what Regine and Tomasz believe isn’t weak either. Patrick Ness doesn’t resolve this, and I love him for not resolving it.

Again I say: This book is wonderful. If you have been curious about Patrick Ness but haven’t wanted to commit yourselves to a whole trilogy, pick up More Than This. You can thank me later.

Note: I received this review copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

You know what? Candlewick Press!

Hi, everyone! I am back from my hiatus and have missed you awfully. For the first few weeks I was like, Yeah! Freedom! No blog posts to write!, but then pretty soon I felt forlorn at not hearing from you, and I have this new Nook where you can highlight passages, which means I don’t have to constantly be at war with myself about whether this one passage is entirely awesome enough to be worth dogearing a poor little book what never did me any harm. I can just press highlight. Er, but anyway, so, I have missed you, and now I am back. I can’t promise I will be the world’s best blogger, but I’m going to do my best to schedule posts in advance and then be at leisure to answer comments and read your wondrous posts all during the week. We’ll see how it goes.

Upon the occasion of my return, I would just like to say: Candlewick Press. Is pretty much the greatest. It would be impossible for there to be one publishing house that published all the books to cater to all my reading needs, but Candlewick Press reliably hits a few very sweet spots for me, which are:

  1. Young adult books that do not mind being Dark. (Hi, Patrick Ness!) (It’s cool to be an author and have a last name that rhymes with “Press” cause then if Patrick Ness wants to he can say “I’m Patrick Ness of Candlewick Press,” thus making the world sound more like a Dr. Seuss book.)
  2. Excellent characters I care about.
  3. Putting excellent characters I care about in dark situations that are dark, and then sticking all the emotional landings. This is tricky! Not everybody can do it. But Candlewick authors seem singularly gifted in this area.

If you are taking this rave about Candlewick to mean that I still love Patrick Ness and have used the summer months to read through Melina Marchetta’s backlist, and am drawing generalizations based on those two examples because I like having rules to guide my reading, especially in YA fiction where I like plots dark and emotional landings stuck, you are correct. That is exactly what is going on here. But I think I’m right! I have a plan to read a whole bunch of Candlewick’s fall catalog of middle grade and young adult books, and then report back to you on how right I was about Candlewick being awesome in general. Not just because of two authors I think are good, but all the time.

So that’s that. Now, a programming note.

I am tired of my blog having this boring name, and I am thinking of changing it. I called it a boring thing only because I did not really realize how amazing the blogging community was going to be, and that actual people in the world were going to be reading my blog. I thought it was just going to be a site on the internet nobody but me knew about where I would keep a record of what I was reading. But that turned out to be wrong, and then I was too lazy to change the name, but I kind of want to change it now. Any suggestions? Something slightly weird would be best, because I am slightly weird. And something that suggests “Books may be read about herein.” Or maybe something to do with being from Louisiana? Or living in New York? Or reading the end before I read the middle? Any suggestions are welcome!

And, hi! I missed you!

The Crash of Hennington, Patrick Ness

Today is Ada Leverson‘s birthday. Happy birthday, wonderful Sphinx! We will be friends in heaven!

Last week I commented on someone’s blog (I forget whose!) that I thought Patrick Ness should be made the king of something. And I still think that, but I also think that when he’s submitting materials for the consideration of the Academy (the King Deciding Academy, this would be), he shouldn’t necessarily send them The Crash of Hennington unless they expressly ask for it. There’s nothing inside of it that would make them change their minds about him — I was rather surprised to find that a book exists that includes sex slavery (or, well, sex indentured servitude?), and yet does not make me feel awkward and squirmy on the author’s behalf for the way they are handling gender stuff. That is pretty rare. The Handmaid’s Tale barely succeeded at that. (But The Handmaid’s Tale is a much better book.)

The Crash of Hennington is about the town of Hennington, where rhinoceroses rhoam free (I wrote “rhoam free” by accident, but I like it and I’m leaving it) in an Ionescan idyll, and the long-time mayor, Cora Larsson is prepared to retire and pass the mayor baton to her successor, single father Max. Meanwhile an old friend of hers has returned to town in the hopes that she will fall in love with him after all (although she is happily married). There is a corporate man who loves his righteous adoptive son and does not care for his creepy biological son who runs a sex slavery ring out of the, like, golf club. (Weirdly, that is not terribly different from what I imagine a golf club to be like.)

You know what Patrick Ness can do really, really well? Patrick Ness can write good parents. The level of emotional investment I had in Ben and Todd’s relationship from The Knife of Never Letting Go was — I don’t want to say unprecedented, because then I feel like I have to go back and inspect all the parents in every book ever, but pretty close to unprecedented. YA and kids’ books can’t have too much parents, because then how could the kids have adventures?, and grown-up books have all this parent-resentment lying around making matters complicated. But Ben was a really good parent, and in Crash, Max is an excellent parent. His conversations with his daughter Talon (don’t ask me, y’all) feel like real conversations a good parent would have with a ten-year-old.

Patrick Ness: King of Good Fictional Parents

(Not a very snappy title for Patrick Ness. If I were he, I’d put my name in the hat for King of Making You Cry without Being Overtly Sentimental, or maybe King of Not Acting Like It’s Gotta Be a Big Thing to Have a Gay Character, or King of Gut-Punchily Fast-Paced Dystopian Books. Because those are all super snappy.)

On the down side, The Crash of Hennington was extremely weird and rather creepy. For a pretty sex-positive book, it also implied lots of sordid creepy sex, and that puts me off because I’m slightly prudish. The plot, though fairly simple, went dancing about from character to character so fast that I sometimes a little lost track and got frustrated. I’m glad I was able to read the book, for I could certainly see some of the DNA that went into the Chaos Walking trilogy (which are apparently coming eventually to a theater near you), but I don’t think I’ll need to read it again.

Having said that, does anyone want my copy? I acquired it on PaperbackSwap, which seemed literally incredible to me, to the point that I said to myself, “I bet the person who has this book to give away is a book blogger who fell in love with the Chaos Walking books because of Ana, like we all, and then wanted to read Patrick Ness’s first novel.” And I was right. It was Chris. Small world, eh? So I feel like I should pass it along to the blogosphere. Leave a note in the comments if you want it. If more than one person asks for it, I’ll draw names from a hat.

Review: Monsters of Men, Patrick Ness

Dear heavenly God. This book. Listen, everyone: Monsters of Men is being released in America on the 28th. That gives you just about enough time to go get the first two books in the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, and read them before Monsters of Men comes out. I strongly advise this course of action if you have not already read the series. Do it now. You will thank me later.

I started writing this post during Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and that feels fitting because if there is any set of books for which I am grateful to book bloggers, it is the Chaos Walking series. I wouldn’t have read this series, or probably even looked twice at it, without the blogosphere’s ardent recommendations, and that would have been terrible because it’s quickly become one of my most favorite series in all the land, surpassing books by authors I have loved for much longer. Like, I asked myself which could I more easily live without, the Chronicles of Chrestomanci or the Chaos Walking books? If one of them were going to be lost forever to human history, and I had to pick which one got to survive, I’d pick Chaos Walking. And y’all know how I love Diana Wynne Jones.

I shall continue to honor spoiler-free September for this book, but I really can’t talk about it at all without spoiling the first two books to some extent (as in: who survives the first two books). If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, please return to the first paragraph and follow its instructions before continuing reading this post. You will be happier in your life.

Where to begin? There were so many good things about Monsters of Men that naming just one, or even naming a few, feels completely inadequate. When the book opens, Todd has just freed the Mayor to command the human armies against the Spackle; Viola has gone to meet a scouting party from her colonization ship. The war against the Spackle proceeds along predictably horrifying lines, and even though you know the Spackle are justified, and the Mayor is evil sauce, you can’t help aligning yourself with the humans. Given your pick of humans and aliens, you’ll pick humans. Meanwhile, back at the scouting party, there is a different kind of awesome as Viola is reunited with two of the people who raised her on the colonization ship. Ness absolutely nails this: Viola has been through so much since she saw these people last, but in their minds she’s still the girl they’ve known all her life, and they are responsible for taking care of her.

Ness basically nails everything. There is not a false note in this whole damn book. Monsters of Men introduces a third narrator, the Spackle 1017 whom Todd let go in The Ask and the Answer. I was afraid this was going to feel put on, but that fear was, of course, unfounded. The Spackle’s narration gives us the aliens as they see themselves, complicating (of course) the war between humans and Spackle; and it also gives us his side of the events of The Ask and the Answer, which are even sadder than we knew at the time, and more heartbreaking than I would have anticipated. And, y’all, I anticipated a fair amount of heartbreak.

From the utter bleakness that was The Ask and the Answer, I thought Monsters of Men was going to be unmerciful, and it wasn’t that. Terrible things happened to major characters, but there were also moments of pure joy. I am thinking of one specific scene about two-thirds of the way through that filled my heart with happiness. If you’ve read it you probably know what I mean. Something happened that I desperately wanted to happen but did not think Patrick Ness would allow to happen, and I cried like a baby and read that scene over and over again. It is one of the greatest strengths of these books that Patrick Ness never ever fails to get the emotion he’s aiming for. I want to read these books a million times. Monsters of Men is a perfect conclusion to the Chaos Walking series. I have no complains whatsoever and will now go and reread that one scene again because it makes me cry just thinking about it. WITH JOY.

So many thanks to Heather at Candlewick Press for the review copy she sent me of this book. I was going insane waiting for it to come out in America and would have perished if I’d had to wait until September. Also, my family and friends were impressed that I got an advance reader’s copy, and I believe it was as a result of this that my mother, my friend, my sister, and my sister’s boyfriend all agreed to read this trilogy, and they loved it. Of course. How could they not? (Well, Captain Hammer has only read the first book so far, but he liked it and will assuredly like the subsequent books even more.)

Other reviews, probably including some spoilery ones, proliferate. Go ye to the Book Blogs Search Engine. And once again I would like to extend my strong and heartfelt thanks to Ana, who convinced me to read this series in the first place, kindly told me in April whether Todd and Viola were going to survive, and encouraged me to ask Candlewick Press for an ARC when I was shy.

The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness

Y’all.  For serious.  Patrick Ness.

The Ask and the Answer has caused me to lose the power to form sentences.  I am not even lying.  I was sat there in the Bongs & Noodles right after I finished reading the book (which isn’t officially out yet – I love it when the bookshop doesn’t care), and someone asked if the seat next to me was taken.  I believe my exact words were “Nnng blfff chair sit.  I mean, no,” and then I wanted to tell them all about The Ask and the Answer and how intense and terrifying it was.  You know how some books make you want to talk about them?  And you have to really try hard not to, because you know if you start talking you’re going to babble?  That is The Ask and the Answer for me.

Patrick Ness, not afraid to go to the dark place.  Dark like exploring how a person who participates in slavery can come to sympathize with it; i.e., triple extra dark.  So dark that if it were Lindt chocolate IT MIGHT EVEN BE TOO DARK FOR ME, and I say this as a girl who loves the 80% cacao Lindt chocolate.  And I expect there will be spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go in this review, because I can’t help it; but only minor spoilers for The Ask and the Answer.

Todd and Viola have been separated by the old Mayor of Prentisstown, now styling himself as the President of New Prentisstown (what used to be Haven); and each of them are hostage for the other’s good behavior.  As Viola recovers from being shot, the Mayor tries to convince her that he’s working for the good of the planet.  Meantime Todd works alongside Davy Prentiss (you know, the kid that just shot Viola), supervising a herd of enslaved alien creatures (Spackle).  The Mayor asks more and more of Todd, always threatening him with Viola’s death-

(I keep writing “the Mayor” and thinking of hand sanitizer.)

Yeah, so Todd becomes an overseer for this massive herd of Spackle, while Viola, in the healers’ house, is asked over and over by the Mayor to persuade the healers – one in particular – that the Mayor means to create a good civilization for them. Mistress Coyle, the one in particular, isn’t having any of it.  She and some of the other healers prove to be part of an underground guerrilla fighting group called The Answer, and she tries to get Viola to fight on her side.  Essentially Todd and Viola are both fiercely recruited for opposite sides of a war for the world, even though all they really want is to find each other again.  Never sure what to believe, they do come to identify with the people with whom they have fallen in.  In spite of being elaborately and repeatedly manipulated.

These books are so bleak!  And good!  And bleak!  Viola and Todd have to grow up a lot in these books, and make fantastically difficult decisions while being unable to trust the main people in their lives.  Because, of course, they want to be the main people in each other’s lives, but they have been separated.  They are not even sure whether they can trust each other.  It is bleak, but it is really about the power of love (like the bleakest possible ever book on that theme), and the identities we create for ourselves (and that others create for us).

If you haven’t read The Knife of Never Letting Go, you should get on that, and then read also The Ask and the Answer.  They are painful and sad and all about redemption.  (I wish Todd would get to read his mum’s notebook already.  I know it’s going to make me cry but I want to know what she says.)  I am desperate to read the third one, Monsters of Men it is apparently going to be called, which is not coming out even in the UK until next year.  Hmph.

Other reviews: things mean a lot, Persnickety Snark, Karin’s Book Nook, Kids Lit, YA Reads

Let me know if I missed yours!

An open letter to Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go

Wow, Patrick Ness, color me super impressed.  Way to create a distinctive, consistent, memorable voice for your protagonist.  That isn’t easy.  I have not read a book where I enjoyed the narrator’s voice so much since, mm, The Book Thief, and before that The Ground Beneath Her Feet.  Which are two of my all-time favorite books.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is based on a fantastic premise, that the aliens in this settled world have given the settlers the disease of Noise, which killed all the women and left the men able to hear each other’s thoughts; and then the youngest boy in the settlement of Prentisstown finds a girl.  A live girl!  The book is fast-paced and exciting and frightening.  The title is perfect.  The relationship between Todd and Viola is utterly real – all the relationships are, actually, and even though this is a plot-driven book, damn, Patrick Ness, you just nail those emotional moments every single time.  Like this?  (Major spoilers in the block text below, so skip to the subsequent paragraph if you haven’t read the book.  Even if you don’t care about spoilers – if you haven’t read the book, you won’t know how great this is because all the context isn’t there, but trust me, it is great.)

Ben nods again, slow and sad, and I notice now that he’s dirty and there’s blood clotted on his nose and he looks like he ain’t eaten for a week but it’s still Ben and he can still read me like no other cuz his Noise is already asking me bout  Manchee and I’m already showing him and here at last my eyes properly fill and rush over and he takes me in his arms again and I cry for real over the loss of my dog and of Cillian and of the life that was.

“I left him,” I say and keep saying, snot-filled and coughing.  “I left him.”

“I know,” he says and I can tell it’s true cuz I hear the same words in his Noise.  I left him, he thinks.

Ouch.  Also, chills.

And you know what else, Patrick Ness?  Since I have gotten started talking about the good things about your book, and how it’s just everything that’s great about being great?  What else is, hooray for you, portraying a gay couple without making a big thing of it – we know they’re a couple because they act like a couple, not because you (the author) gets all THESE ARE TWO GAY PEOPLE THAT ARE GAY; they are just a couple, and that is nice, and it is normalizing, and there should be more of that going on in literature.  Oo, and, okay, also?  Aaron was about the dreadfullest villain I ever read about in my life.  (That isn’t a spoiler – you can always tell he’s insane.)

Here’s the thing, Patrick Ness.  You already did it!  You already created Todd’s voice!  You did it using only your words!  Your achievement is a remarkable achievement, because it is damn hard to create a voice like that, and you did it ever so beautifully.  Why, why, why did you need to do that silly dialect thing?  “Yer” is not necessary!  “Cuz” is not really necessary either!  And I can assure you that there is no possible world in which “conversayshun” would ever be necessary, because that is how the word is already pronounced.  It’s not an accent.  It’s how you say the word.  And “an asking” instead of “a question” is both silly and jarring.  It mildly chagrins my dazzle to see you relying on dialecty crutches this way, when Todd’s voice, and the atmosphere of the world you’ve created, are already just about perfect.

Since I am having a moan anyway, here’s my other (teeny-tiny) gripe, which contains massive spoilers.  I feel like the Big Prentisstown Reveal could have happened sooner.  At least part of it could have happened sooner.  I say, tell about how they killed all the women earlier on in the book (have one of the townspeople tell Todd, or something) – we pretty much figure that out anyway, right?  It’s part of the emotional arc of the story, but it’s not the central part.  The reveal you want to save for close to the end is that Prentisstown keeps on killing their own, to allow the boys to become men.  That is what’s crucial to the events that occur immediately after Ben tells it to Todd – plotwise and emotional-story-arc-wise.  Plus, if we already had the reveal about the women, we would think, okay, we’re done, now we know why nobody likes Prentisstown, and then the other thing would really slap us in the face, because it is pretty chilling.

(I mean, it wouldn’t slap me in the face.  I would already know because I would have read the end (as indeed I did!) and found out what was what.  This was helpful to me in making judgments about where each reveal should have occurred.  Reading the end: the Way, the Truth, and the Light, verily I say unto ye.)

Once I get started complaining, I can’t stop, so here’s my last complaint.  Patrick Ness, WHY ARE YOU BRITISH?  And also WHY DID I NOT READ THIS BOOK SOONER?  My sister has just now returned from Ireland, and if I had read this book like, like two days sooner, I could have told her to buy me the sequel, which is out in the UK now but not out in the US until September.  I really loved the books I read last week, but I would have loved them a few days later, and then I could have had The Ask and the Answer on Thursday when my sister comes all the way properly home.

To conclude, Patrick Ness, you are awesome, and future books would not suffer if you eighty-sixed the fakey dialect bit.  Also (spoilers!  Spoilers!), given that this book turned me into an emotional wreck, you, um, you could go ahead and have it turn out that Ben is still alive.  And, um, I mean, Cillian too.  That would be fine.  It wouldn’t mess up anything!  I would be happy!  Todd and Ben would be happy!  We would all be happy!  I wouldn’t feel like you had cheated!  Just if you wanted to have it turn out that way.  I only mention it.

Kisses and hugs,
Jenny

Other reviews:

things mean a lot
Bart’s Bookshelf
books i done read
Becky’s Book Reviews
Confessions of a Bibliovore
Fantasy Book Critic
Librarilly Blonde
The Well-Read Child
Wands and Worlds
YA Reads
YA Fabulous
Karin’s Book Nook
The Page Flipper
Reading the Leaves
Bookannelid
Lisa the Nerd
Kids Lit
Bitten by Books
Books and So Many More Books
A Hoyden’s Look at Literature

Let me know if I missed yours!