I bought this book perhaps a year ago because I had a gift voucher for a book store, and I just kept seeing this particular book, with it’s white cover, everywhere. I saw it on Goodreads and I saw it in the store. So I bought it, and it sat there, until now. And boy, now I need to get the second one (it’s a trilogy). For a book which won “Guardian’s children’s fiction prize in 2008” it’s pretty intense. And I wouldn’t be handing it out to children, well I would to young adults/teenagers, but not those under 10. Why not? It’s intense, it’s emotional and there’s a few more mature themes here. But it’s great. It clearly is written more for a younger audience, with it’s repeated early use of ‘poo’ and it’s at first annoying, but then alright, misspelling of words like ‘selecshun’, because the protagonist, Todd, is 12 years old (in a world where 13 months makes a year), and is nearly a man (magically 13). Plus this is a world where there wasn’t a need for reading so Todd struggles with it, and hence we get some phonetic spellings, which I became okay with.
The story is set on “New World”, an alien world which was settled around 20-30 years ago. A world where all the animals talk (to varying degrees), and a place where all the men have their thoughts broadcast as ‘noise’. Now it’s a mix of conscious, subconscious and perhaps unconscious thoughts and feelings, and is words interspersed with images. It shows what you long for, what you fantasise about, and betrays your emotions and future actions, and of course, where you are. It’s a curse, and obviously some people couldn’t deal with it when they first found out about it. But it makes the story very interesting, as the noise is shown to us in varying fonts, and intriguing snippets. And obviously it causes a lot of havoc for Todd because he’s trying to run away but his Noise betrays him all too often.
(There be spoilers ahead)
But women aren’t afflicted with the Noise, they can hear it, they don’t broadcast it (playing on the idea that men are open books and women are mysterious). However, for Todd, or so he thought, the world was without women. Until one day he finds a girl. He also thought that “New World” was wiped out of Spackles (aliens), but that too is wrong. A lot of what Todd grew up thinking, is wrong. Which is quite interesting, and at times frustrating to read about. I had actually quite a bit of frustration with the book, because Todd is so stupid. He gets these thoughts into his head about what he should be doing, which is just so illogical and silly. But, he’s a 12 year old boy, so of course he’s having these thoughts about being a hero and saving people. And then there’s his stubbornness and embarrassment about being unable to read. He was given a book written by his mother near the beginning of the book as he was sent away, but we don’t read any of it until near the end because Todd doesn’t want to get help to read it. Well, there’s that and the fact they are running for their lives.
“Doing what’s right should be easy. It shouldn’t be just another big mess like everything else.”
Unfortunately Todd, that isn’t the case. And you sure as ruddy hell learn it when you are on the run with Viola (the girl he found). Todd is joined by his dog Manchee, who is amazing, and I love him, and UGH why Ness, WHY! Ness is actually evil. They say GRR Martin is evil (and he is), but Ness is evil too. And this is written for teens/children/whatever! Nothing goes right for them at all. Seriously, Aaron (the crazed priest) pops up FIVE TIMES to ruin everything. And Jnr pops up THREE TIMES, and he pops up right at the end, and GAH NESS WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME. And then even when things go well, like defeating Aaron, or escaping Jnr, they just walk into more terribleness. So evil.
And it’s not just the action and suspense, and plain intensity of the novel which is great, there’s some fantastic thoughts and ideas.
“But a knife ain’t just a thing, is it? It’s a choice, it’s something you do. A knife says yes or no, cut or not, die or don’t. A knife takes a decision out of your hand and puts it into the world and it never goes back again.”
“The knife is alive. As long as I hold it, as long as I use it, the knife lives, lives in order to take life, but it has to be commanded, it has to have me to tell it to kill, and it wants to, it wants to plunge and thrust and cut and stab and gouge, but I have to want it to as well, my will has to join with its will. I’m the one who allows it and I’m the one responsible. But the knife wanting it makes it easier.
Obviously with the title of this book, there was going to be a knife involved, and Ness made the interplay with Todd and the knife fascinating and powerful. And the knife obviously extends to murder and whether or not Todd is prepared to do what needs to be done (which he largely isn’t and those choices haunt him). And I just love these quotes.
And then there’s the nice working in of a message about women. There are some great female characters here, and Viola is superb. And I do love it when Todd turns around and says “She ain’t my girl” “She’s her own girl,” I say. “She don’t belong to anyone.”
I really can’t wait until I can get my hands on the second book, because this ended on such a cliffhanger! And it was great, so I’m eager for more.