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Thursday, May 10, 2012

One of the greatest YA novels of the last 25 years

I've been wanting to write this ever since I finished the book well over a month ago but simply haven't had the time to do it the justice it required.

The book is The Knife of Never Letting Go 
by Patrick Ness

What a strange title, I thought, when the book was recommended to me.  I almost didn't read it because of the oddity of the title.  Once you read the book, you'll see how fitting the title truly is.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is written in the first person from the perspective of a twelve-year-old boy.  Now, in my opinion, it is incredibly hard to write the first person perspective of a twelve-year-old as an adult.  Adults just don't get how kids this age think.

For example, in the book Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (I just so happened to read this immediately preceding The Knife of Never Letting Go), which is a great story that also happens to be written from the first person perspective of a teenager, there is a substantial difference in the voice of the main character

Here is a quote from Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs:

The gleam led me around a corner and into a small room with part of the ceiling caved in.  Daylight streamed through the hole onto the coils of silty dust, pieces of torn carpet plastered here and there like scraps of desiccated meat. Beneath the debris I could hear the scrabble of tiny feat, some rodentine dark-dweller that had survived the implosion of its world.  In the midst of it all lay the demolished trunk, photographs scattered around it like confetti. 

Now, despite being a great story, I had a hard time believing this was the voice of a teenager.  It was too... literary.  That isn't how teenagers think and I believe this voice took away from the overall tone of the story.

In contrast, here is a quote from The Knife of Never Letting Go

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.  About anything.
     "Need a poo, Todd."
     "Shut up, Manchee."
     "Poo.  Poo, Todd."
     "I said shut it."
We're walking across the wild fields southeast of town, those ones that slope down to the river and head on toward the swamp.  Ben's sent me to pick him some swamp apples and he's made me take Manchee with me, even tho we all know Cillian only bought him to stay on Mayor Prentis's good side and so suddenly here's this brand-new dog as a present for my birthday last year when I never said I wanted any dog, that what I said I wanted was for Cillian to finally fix the fissionbike so I wouldn't have to walk every forsaken place in this stupid town, but oh, no, happy birthday, Todd here's a brand-new puppy, Todd, and even tho you don't want him, even tho you never asked for him, guess who has to feed him and train him and wash him and take him for walks and listen to him jabber now he's got old enough for the talking germ to set his mouth moving? Guess who?

Big difference?  You bet.  Ness is a master at writing the teenage mind which only adds to the wonderful story in which the main character is immersed. And that is what great storytelling is all about -writing compelling character.  The Main Character, Todd Hewitt's ignorance of the events surrounding his situation add mystery to the story -not the kind of mystery that the writer purposefully omits to include in order to keep his or her readers guessing but mystery because the main character simply doesn't know and really wants to find out -the best kind of mystery because you, along with Todd, want to figure out what the heck is going on.

There -that's the kicker. You aren't reading along as Todd goes on his journey, you're with Todd, standing beside him, wanting what he wants, feeling what he feels -that's how well this books is written.  There is no more compelling argument than that to read a great story.

Patrick Ness spent three years teaching creative writing at Oxford university and currently lives in England (but was born in the USA).  Check out his website HERE.

As always, find interviews, writing samples, videos, contests and more on my re-vamped website.

In bookstores 6-5-2012

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