The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.
I’d like to just quote the first 1 1/2 pages of this book and have done with posting. That’s how I got sucked into it, and I don’t even like talking animals. Ness’s violent, thoughtful sci-fi thriller for young adults grabbed me right away, establishing a unique setting and a creepy mood and a great deal of forward momentum in record time.
Todd Hewitt, owner of the talking dog Manchee, is one month shy of his thirteenth birthday, when he’ll be the last boy in Prentisstown—actually, the last boy on the planet—to become a man. There won’t be any more children. After a nasty bout of germ warfare with the planet’s native population, all the women are dead. Also, the animals can talk now, and the surviving men can hear one another’s thoughts.
Imagine: 24-hour-a-day, full-blast, telepathic talk radio from everyone you know. The Noise makes it hard to concentrate. It’s easier to lie or keep secrets than you’d think on a planet full of telepaths, as long as you can submerge what you’re hiding in the barrage of everyone else’s thinking. And boy, does Prentisstown have secrets.
When Todd discovers a space in the Noise outside town, a place that’s just unnervingly quiet, his guardians shove him out the back door with his mom’s journal, a hunting knife, and a warning never to return. The story hardly lets up for the rest of his journey, a furiously fast-paced flight from pursuers who can hear him think. Followed by a deranged town preacher who is the Energizer Bunny of villains, Todd repeatedly confronts and reassesses his willingness to fight, and when neither fighting nor wounding does the trick, his willingness to kill.
On one level, this book has Todd’s likable, distinctive narrative voice and compelling action. My first pass through was nothing but “what happens next?” On second glance, there’s a lot of thought-provoking stuff in here: how society creates scapegoats, men as individuals versus men in mobs, women as aliens, aliens as enemies, killing versus murder, all that and a great dog. I can’t wait to see how Ness develops these ideas in the next book, not to mention how he moves on from one doozy of a cliffhanger ending. Why, yes, I did get sucked into Book One of a series in progress. Book Two, The Ask and the Answer, should be released in Fall 2009.
Violent themes, appalling misogyny, and strong language—all completely called for—make this a read for older teens.
Check the WRL catalog for The Knife of Never Letting Go