The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

I tutor a thirteen year old in creative writing, and given my job and our relationship we obviously talk about books. A lot. And we recommend each other a lot of books. And I have to admit, since she will likely read this review and will call me out if I don’t admit, that she reads far more of the books I recommend to her than I read of what she recommends to me. Which isn’t fair or right, but it’s the occupational hazard of a bookseller that you’re never reading all the books that have been recommended to you by anyone, no matter how much you respect their opinion.

After a solid year of having NOT read a few of the books she’s recommended to me, she said: “Ok, fine,” in a very adult voice. “If you’re only going to read one of the books I recommend to you,” (and here she gave me a look as if to say, ‘I’m letting you off easy, you slacker’) “You HAVE to read the Knife of Never Letting Go.”

I asked her why. “Because it’s IMPORTANT,” she said.

Well. Clearly I had to read it. Immediately.

And she was totally right.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first in the Chaos Walking Trilogy from British author Patrick Ness. It came out several years ago in the US, and I even remember picking it up and thinking, I really ought to read this, and then of course, not doing so. My mistake. Contained in the pages of The Knife of Never Letting Go is a story that is as exciting as it is full of literary wallop. I was constantly awed by Ness’s ability to not only move a story forward, at a desperate, thrilling pace no less, but to simultaneously endow his prose with ruminations befitting a literary (which is to say, reviewed by the NYT), adult novel.

As I read, I marveled in the echoes of authors like Cormac McCarthy or even John Steinbeck in Ness’s thematic content, and relished the emotional acuity of his narrator, Todd. And as I closed in on the end, I thought, here it is, here’s what Young Adult is: it’s coming of age. It’s got content not befitting the under 12 group. It’s upsetting, it’s relatable, it’s life affirming and it’s hopeful.

When I finished, I thought: I need to tell everyone about this book. So I hope you read it. Because that thirteen year old I tutor was right. It is important.

--reviewed by Maggie, Children's Department Director (and NYMBC lady)