The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – Review by Emily D. Rietz
I believe in transparency.
In my many roles in life (teacher, mom, friend, daughter, partner), I work hard to freely share my heart, risk failure, and speak the truth in love. I believe in transparency because I think it creates connection and community.
So yes, I believe in transparency; and yet there are days when the chaos in my head and the angst in my heart feel too big, and I need time to process and think before I figure out how to share it with those who love me best and matter most.
In Patrick Ness’s 2008 The Knife of Never Letting Go, there is no time to process, no ability to withdraw from your life, even for a moment. Because in Prentisstown, every thought – human, animal, insect, etc. – is audible, creating a ceaseless stream of Noise. And then, on the eve of his thirteenth birthday, Todd and his dog Manchee happen upon a hole in the noise, a spot of silence unlike anything he’s ever known. And this secret – this silence – forces him to run for his life and begin an unexpected, epic journey.
I loved everything about this book when it found its way into my life a few years back. I couldn’t put it down and recommended it to pretty much anyone who would listen. I told my students it was hard and crazy and that it just might change their lives. Yes, it’s a complex, sophisticated 479 page journey, but it is worth every minute.
The premise of Noise is beyond clever and its visual representation through bold graphics throughout the novel is fascinating. The physical setting of New World is a gorgeously-written, layered dystopia and the emotional setting is unpredictable and unstable, mirroring a plot that runs the gamut from slow and steady to furious and stressful. Ness’ characters – even the minor ones – are rich and complicated, and it has been a while since I reacted with such disdain to a villainous evil in a text. Needless to say, I was completely emotionally invested in the lives of these characters and found myself laughing out loud, fighting pits in my stomach, and wiping away tears throughout my reading.
This text demands hard, inferential reading work, but because of the way Ness drew me in, I was happy to do it. The themes are numerous and important and readers will find themselves wrestling with big ideas about education, religion, power, tolerance, gender roles, loyalty, and courage. In the end, I left the text thinking about what it means to be known, how I find my center in this chaotic, noisy, busy world, and how love and hope are true agents of change.
Most booksellers recommend this title for grades nine and up, but I’ve had many an 8th grader successfully tackle and love it. It is also an effective book club title, fostering meaningful student conversations that linger for weeks. The maddening ending also has them clamoring to get their hands on the next book in the trilogy.
Emily Rietz believes that books – especially kidlit and YAL – help us understand and change ourselves and our world in a way nothing else can. She just began her fourteenth year as a teacher and currently teaches 7th and 8th grade language arts at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte, NC. She feels privileged to spend her days reading and writing with students and her nights reading with her three year old son. She also loves sharing her reading life on Goodreads.com (@Emily Rietz). Her school webpage can be viewed at mslatrinity.blogspot.com.