Series: Chaos Walking #1
Published by Candlewick Press on 9th September 2008
Genres: Dystopian, Sci-Fi, Young Adult
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Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him – something so awful that Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too.
With hostile men in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.
Patrick Ness is quickly proving himself to be one of my all-time favorite authors. I’ve had the Chaos Walking trilogy on my to-read list for months now, and I’m rather annoyed that it took me this long to finally get to its first installment. Thankfully, my sad, procrastinating self was spurred into action after I read Ness’s A Monster Calls, which was so beautifully gripping that it convinced me to finally crack open The Knife of Letting Go.
And then it took me almost two full months to finish it. Aren’t I terrible?
Despite what my extremely spotty progress through this one may lead you to believe, I really loved this book. It’s unorthodox, creative, and powerful. It’s a marvelous piece of fiction that has firmly convinced me that Ness is an immensely talented writer whom I will probably have to begin worshiping in the near future. Or, at the very least, following with a degree of obsession that could possibly be classified as slightly unhealthy.
Or very unhealthy. Whatever. The man hasn’t let me down yet.
Now, let me explain to you why you need to read this book. Why it is a shining beacon in the inane realms of contemporary YA fiction. Why I must write a long and tearful apology to Mr. Ness to attempt to explain why my reading of his novel was so unnecessarily prolonged and hesitant.
Unique in its presentation, the writing is admittedly a bit difficult to get into. It is rambling and borderline incoherent, written in a stream-of-consciousness style that is filled with misspellings and grammatical errors. Done to reflect the mindset and speaking style of the protagonist, it takes some time to adjust to. You may find it rather frustrating initially, as I did, but you need to trust me here. Stick with it. It gets easier to absorb very quickly, and you’ll be glad that you gave it a chance when it does. It’s a surprisingly rewarding style of narration that really allows you to connect to the speaker and his story, and once you’ve slogged your way through the first few chapters, you’ll find yourself breezing through the pages.
Past the strangeness of Ness’ methods lies some powerful and beautiful writing. It’s descriptive and immediate, deliberate and addictive. It gives every scene a wonderful sense of intensity and poignancy, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Ness has crafted a distinctive and incredibly interesting world here, with a complex and twisted story to fill it with. In a genre that is proving to be increasingly unoriginal and cliché, there’s something truly special here. The concept of the Noise is particularly fascinating, adding a completely new dynamic to the plot and its characters. And this isn’t the kind of idea that is thrown in as a mere novelty that adds nothing to the work as a whole, there only to make it seem interesting and new on the surface. Ness infuses his entire world with his creativity, and it plays a significant role in the events that transpire.
And what events they are. This story is clever. Shocking. Heart-wrenching. Touching. It moves at a breakneck pace, yet also spends ample time on the characters and their more intimate interactions. There are plenty of action-packed sequences and jaw-dropping twists, but there are also numerous moments – smaller, but still mighty – of emotional development and personal growth. And, heck, I’ll admit it: I cried at one point. This story is not one that you’re going to forget anytime soon. It’ll stick with you, and it will make you think.
And, wow, that ending. I am so glad that I do not have to wait a year or two for the sequel. Because the wait would probably kill me.
The people that populate this novel’s pages are well-realized and emotionally charged. Todd and Viola come across as believable teenagers that brim with complexity and humanity, striking a sharply realistic balance between adult maturity and childlike innocence. They also foster a relationship that develops steadily and believably, becoming almost unbearably sweet by the story’s conclusion. I guarantee that you’ll be rooting hard for them by the end.
The villains, meanwhile, aren’t entirely one-dimensional or predictable, and harbor motives that will continually surprise and disgust you. They’re also very, very evil, so there’s no need to worry about any half-baked or laughable antagonists. You want something sinister? Something really, truly vile? You’ve got it.
Finally, the many secondary characters flesh out the story and complement the world-building perfectly. They give the plot life and a sense of community, providing flavor and diversity. I’m eager to discover more about them in the sequels, but the light touch that they impart here works well in the context of the narrative.
Seriously, people. You need to read Patrick Ness. The man needs more attention from the book community. This is a wonderful first installment in what will likely prove to be an incredible series, and it pains me to know how relatively unknown it is at present. Good YA literature isn’t gone. It’s just hiding in the back, on the dusty shelves that few browse. It’s unfair, but sometimes the things that we most treasure are the things that go unnoticed by others, that do not gain the attention that they deserve. If anything, that just makes them more special.
Still, I do hope that Ness one day gets his turn in the spotlight. He certainly deserves it.