Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go. Chaos Walking. 1. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2008.
[Book cover credit:]

Booktrust Teenage Prize (2008)
Guardian Children's Fiction Prize (2008)
James Tiptree, Jr. Award (2008)
Locus Recommended Reading, Young Adult (2008)
ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2009)

You know that feeling when you're home by yourself and suddenly everything goes quiet? Too quiet? No traffic, no clunky fridge, no groaning house or snoring dog. It's creepy, but no matter how freaked out you are, you have to look around and see if something is making everything be quiet. Now imagine that you can hear everything everyone is thinking. Everyone, even your goldfish. All the time. If you were used to listening in on everyone's inner-minds, that quiet house phenomenon would be that much more rare, downright impossible, and terrifying. You'd have to find out what caused, where the silence comes from, no matter what. No matter where the silence takes you.

I'll be honest, if it hadn't been for all the rave reviews this book has received around blog-land and on the list-servs, I would not have made it past the first sentence:
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say. About anything.

It sounds so snooty that I almost don't want to type it, but I can't stand books written in improper English. Not that I always use super fantabulous grammar (as evidenced by this sentence), I just don't want to read an entire book of bad grammar (especially of the double negative variety) and misspellings. I decided to power through to at least the 50p mark as it looked like I could love this book based on both the cover flap and other synopsis/reviews I'd read.

I did love it.

Long before page 50 I was so sucked into the story that I no longer noticed the bad grammar (the phonetic spelling, on the other hand, threw me to the very end). Though this speaks volumes for the strength of the story, I'm still not sure it says anything good about the book.

Every creative writing class, as well as more than a few of my high school English classes, I've ever taken has stressed that in order to be a good writer, one must be a better reader. The Knife of Never Letting Go can teach readers volumes about storytelling, but it is detrimental to the teaching of writing, in the putting together a sentence, nuts and bolts sense. We learn by example, and for readers, that includes the examples laid out in books. That's why people get so upset about the sex and the queers and the violence and whatever else they find offensive in books for children and teens. I realize it may be a little hypocritical to champion books challenged for these reasons but to not enthusiastically recommend this book because of the way it's written, but isn't anyone else upset about the poor English and spelling presented in this?

I also realize that Ness did this on purpose as Todd, the narrator, is illiterate, a fact that is very important to the story. He is given a book that he can't read to help him figure out, well, everything. It still bothered me.

But as I said, I loved this story. It was really new to me and seemed to have many, many layers only touched on in this first book. I'm eagerly awaiting the second Chaos Walking book, The Ask and The Answer, along with everyone else.

Warning to those who haven't yet read it: This book came to my attention when it appeared on a list of books that will make you bawl you eyes out. I did. It also belongs on a second list: books that will make you do a really good impression of that girl from Tiny Toons with your household pets.
Book Source: Philly Free Library

No comments: