The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness …I think I may love you just a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot. I can’t remember the last time I read a book where I literally had to force myself to slow down while reading. I’d start a page and I just couldn’t stand it – my eyes would race to the bottom of the page, skip over to the next page…I was so invested in these amazing characters and this  story and look, I’m doing it here.

Context coming right up.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy (The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men are the other two titles in the series.) I purchased it based on someone’s blog review – sorry, don’t remember the blog – and it languished on my tbr pile for several months before I finally picked it up. I read about 10 pages and put it aside. I had the same sort of lukewarm feelings about the book as I did after my first attempt to read The Book Thief. And we all remember how that turned out, right?

The second time I picked up Ness’ book, I fell into the narrative. By page 38 there was NO WAY I was putting the book down; I couldn’t have put it down even if I’d wanted to.

Todd is just days away from becoming a man; that’s what he’ll be on his 13th birthday. He lives in Prentisstown, a place notable for two reasons: there are no women and everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts. Todd calls it the ‘noise’ and we hear about as he heads off to the swamp to pick apples.

…the swamp is the only place anywhere near Prentisstown where you can have half a break from all the Noise that men spill outta theirselves, all their clamor and clatter that never lets up, even when they sleep. men and the thoughts they don’t know they think even when everyone can hear. Men and their Noise. I don’t know how they do it, how they stand each other.

This visit to the swamp is remarkable though; Todd hears…silence. But that can’t be because “there’s no such thing as silence. Not here, not nowhere. Not when yer asleep, not when yer by yerself, never.” When he returns to the home he shares with Ben and Cillian, he gets an even bigger surprise: Ben tells Todd he has to go. There is no time for discussion or explanation, Todd must run.

The shocks keep coming for young Todd and his faithful dog, Manchee. (And can I just say here that I have never been one to fall for the old ‘boy and his dog’ story until now – I love that dog, whose thoughts Todd can also hear.)

Patrick Ness has created a compelling, suspenseful narrative.  Todd’s life is constantly in danger and  he has to keep adjusting his own story because, clearly, he hasn’t been told the whole truth about the town he comes from or even his own personal history. He leaves Prentisstown with a book he can’t read and a knife and a sense of urgency that propels him forward with barely a chance to catch his breath. I felt like that, too.

I know that dystopian literature is all the rage these days and yes, I am a fan of The Hunger Games, but I think Ness has done something else quite original with The Knife of Never Letting Go. This is a story that grabs you by the throat and shakes the living daylights out of you for 479 pages.  The subject matter is often dark. The character of the preacher, Aaron, is one of the creepiest psychopaths I’ve encountered in literature in a long, long time. And this is a book I want to hand to people and say “read this now!” I love it when that happens.




Land of Milk and Honey – William Taylor

As a result of two world wars, thousands of children from Britain were sent to live in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia and new Zealand. While many of these children were war orphans, many were not. Their parents merely decided to send them away in the hopes that they would have a better life. About 750 children ended up in New Zealand.

William Taylor’s ironically titled novel Land of Milk and Honey follows the fortunes of one such boy, Jake Neill, aged 14. When he arrives with his younger sister, Janice, in Wellington  in 1947 he is told he’s ‘lucky’ because he’s going to be shipped off to a farm where he’ll have access to “milk and butter and cream and eggs. Fresh meat.” Jake isn’t actually an orphan; his mother has been killed in an air raid and his father has lost a leg and doesn’t feel able to look after his children.

Jake’s first trauma comes when he is separated from his sister. While Jake knows he is bound for the Pearson farm, the authorities don’t know where they are sending Janice and Jake leaves her without knowing whether or not he will ever see her again. Turns out, this is the least of his worries.

The Pearsons – mother, father and 16-year-old son, Darcy, are about as far away from warm and welcoming as you can get. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that he’s nothing more than slave labour and worse, that Darcy is a sadist. The evidence comes early on when Darcy tortures a calf taunting Jake by saying: “Useless bastard. Look….See its nuts? Deserves everything it’s getting.” Darcy proceeds to slowly twist the calf’s leg until it cries out.

Darcy’s cruelty escalates and I found some of the scenes almost impossible to read about. I seriously felt sick to my stomach, but in that way where I knew I was reading something authentic not gratuitous.

William Taylor is a well-known and prolific New Zealand author. He’s written over 30 novels, including books for adults and children. Land of Milk and Honey, while not easy to read, should be read. It is a novel that deals with themes like resilience and determination which should resonate with its readers. Jake’s time on the Pearson farm is difficult to read about, but he is a remarkable character and his story reminds us of how it is possible to overcome tremendous odds.

The Town That Drowned – Riel Nason

In all our years together, my book club has never been joined by the author of our chosen book. This month, as we met to discuss The Town That Drowned, we were fortunate to have the novel’s author, Riel Nason, with us. Riel and one of the members of my book club have known each other since university, so it made sense for Chrissy to choose this book and to invite Riel to join us while we discussed it.

The Town That Drowned is Riel’s first novel, but she has honed her skills writing a regular column on antiques and collectibles for the Telegraph Journal, is the author of a collection of short stories, some of which have been published, and blogs about quilting here. For the women who gathered for a discussion of the book, it was a real treat to get the inside scoop on the book’s development.

Narrated by 14-year-old Ruby, The Town That Drowned tells the story of what happens to a town when the government decides to build a dam. The narrative of the story is actually based on a true event, as Riel explained at our meeting and on her blog:

“In the late 1960s, before my friends and I were born, the area had been flooded when the Mactaquac Dam was built about 15 miles downstream. As a kid, I thought it was all pretty neat information.  Lots of great trivia. But, now if we fast forward to just a few years ago when I was possessed with the idea that I-Must-Write-A-Novel, I immediately knew that the flooding would be the background event.”

The Town That Drowned is a quiet story. Riel might have even admitted that nothing much happens, but I would disagree. I think Riel actually did a very nice job of capturing rural New Brunswick during the 1960s. My dad grew up just a few clicks further up the river from Riel’s fictional Haventon, in a small town called Perth-Andover and I spent a fair amount of time there as a kid, so I am intimately familiar with towns like that. You know the kind: everyone knows everyone, meaning everyone knows your business and there’s no escape from the town bullies. Ruby observes her neighbours and the events that transpire over the course of a couple of years through remarkably mature eyes.

My favourite character in the novel is Ruby’s younger brother, Percy. Although it’s never overtly stated, Percy has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism. Every time he opens his mouth, he is a delight.

“Our mother says we should give you the message of her love,” he says to Mr. Cole – a much loved neighbour – on the occasion of a picnic he and Ruby share with him.

Percy thrives on structure and order and routine and the thought that his house might be moved is kept a secret from him for as long as possible. Ruby adores him and is embarrassed by him in equal measure. I just adored him.

The Town That Drowned will have special meaning to those readers familiar with the St. John River Valley and those who remember the Mactaquac Dam being built. But even if you aren’t from around here, the story offers up plenty of  treasures: first love, the importance of family, and what it means to have a place to call home.

Envious Moon – Thomas Christopher Greene

I am a sucker for star-crossed lover stories. People who can’t or shouldn’t be together, but who have this tremendous connection – something that they can’t fight even if they wanted to.

Thomas Christopher Greene’s novel Envious Moon tells the story of Anthony Lopes, son of Portuguese immigrants, who lives in  a coastal town, Galilee, Rhode Island, where he earns money by fishing. Anthony is smart, but poor. His father was killed on a fishing boat; his mother works hard to provide and while Anthony dreams of a better life, he doesn’t quite know how he’s going to have it.

One day Anthony’s best friend, Victor, tells him something that has the potential to change both boys’ lives forever. Victor sometimes worked for a funeral home and he’d been at a wake on Cross Island. He was alone in the room and he’d lifted the corner of the Persian rug. There – to his amazement – he’d found an envelope, stuffed full of money. Victor tells Anthony that the house is empty and that they should break in and steal the money. Who could it hurt?

Of course, the boys’ plan doesn’t play out in quite the way they expect. Inside the house, Anthony sees a girl:

…a girl surrounded by golden light and wearing a white nightgown. Through the gown I could see the outline of her legs. I could not see her eyes and I could not tell the colour of her hair. But the part of her face that I could see, was more beautiful than any face I had ever seen. her high cheekbones and her full lips and her strong nose. Part of me understood that I should not be considering any of this, that I should just run, but something kept me completely still.

It is a moment that changes Anthony’s life forever.

Greene’s novel begins as an older Anthony contemplates that failed heist and its aftermath. He says, “I confess that I sometimes forget what she looks like.” Whatever tale Anthony is about to tell, the reader knows that it is part of some sort of therapy because this forgetting is considered a good thing by Dr. Mitchell. Every once and a while, we revisit present-day Anthony as he works through the events of his 17th summer.

Anthony is a likeable character. It’s impossible not to care about him as he makes one bad decision after another – each becoming more desperate than the last.  Hannah, the girl he loves, is slightly less transparent.  Anthony’s motives seem clear, but it is impossible to know how much of their story is motivated by grief.

Envious Moon reminded me a little of Endless Love by Scott Spencer. Love is the one emotion that drives people, especially young people, to reckless behaviour. Greene’s novel captures that love-fueled momentum and propels Anthony, Hannah and the reader on a journey that is both heart-felt and heart-breaking.