The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

ask and the answerI thought the first installment of the Chaos Walking series – The Knife of Never Letting Go – was good, but its sequel, The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness, was superior in every way. It may be one of my favourite books that I have read in 2014.

Immediately following the events of the Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd and Viola are caught in the middle of a power struggle between two powerful forces. Separated and finding themselves trapped on opposite sides of the fight, Viola and Todd struggle to do what is right, hold onto what they believe is good for the world and its people, and ultimately, find each other in a world that is tearing itself apart.

To sum up my overall thoughts on this book: This book was impressive. Even though its audience is predominantly young adult, this book gauged me sociologically. The best part about it is that Ness writes in a way that the themes – which are important and relevant in today’s socio-political context – are accessible to younger audiences; the themes are articulated in a way that is thought-provoking, and compels you to learn something about yourself when you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with various perspectives.

Whilst The Knife of Never Letting Go was about self-discovery and the impact a rite of passage has on the psyche and society as a whole, The Ask and the Answer moves onto graver and heavier themes, such as power (especially how it is attained in fascist regimes), oppression, fear, control, choice, war, violence, and the power of words, secrets, truth and lies.

These themes, which are often themes that are misused and manipulated to further political agenda, are executed with finesse and nuance. Whether intentional on Ness’s part of not, various characters represent common characters within these power struggles – the tyrant, the branded enemy, the one who follows the status quo or the ‘winning side’, the pacifists, those who exploit war, etc. –  and through their speech and rhetoric, there are echoes and pieces of ideology and justifications of their actions (or inaction) that can be found within our history and today. To locate these characters within fiction in the context of our society give rise to the complexity of war and rebellion, but more so why sometimes rebellion is not always bad and why violence may be, though undesirable, a lesser evil than war or relinquishing one’s liberty.

The characters in this installment play a central role in the story’s development; not just our protagonists, Viola and Todd, but the other characters too, especially the President, Mistress Coyle, and Davy – in fact, I would go as far to say that they play larger roles than the two protagonists. Characters grow and develop, and every character introduced is relevant and integral in the fabric of the wider story. Furthermore, the representation of the characters aren’t stilted from bias, but are portrayed in a way that allows the reader freedom to interpret their actions and perspectives. And as much as I’d love to delve into my own opinions of this book (and I have many; especially about which party I think is justified), unfortunately sharing those opinions would give it away, and I would like to implore everyone to read this book series.

The Ask and the Answer is an important, necessary book and it’s a fantastic and thrilling read also. It’s the young adult dystopian that I wish I had written, and as I said when reviewing The Knife of Letting Go, authors should aspire to write a book series as compelling, poignant and thought-provoking as Chaos Walking.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Ask and the Answer
Book Series: Chaos Walking #2
Author: Patrick Ness
Pages: 536
Publisher: Walker Books

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The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

knife of never letting goI want to thank my friend for recommending this series to me. The Knife of Letting Go by Patrick Ness is the young adult novel that all authors of this genre should aspire to write. It is a fantastic book, intended for younger audiences but is perfectly capable to enrapturing mature and older minds, or the unexpected reader. It is inventive and truly unlike any story I have read.

The Knife of Letting Go follows twelve year old Todd, who is days away from his thirteenth birthday – the day he becomes a man. In Prentisstown, there are no women; there are only men. In Prentisstown, your innermost thoughts and feelings are audible to everyone. Your neighbours and your townsmen’s thoughts – whether cruel, perverted or distorted – pervade and pierce your consciousness. In Prentisstown, there is no silence. Until one day, Todd ventures into the swamps and finds silence. From this discovery, Todd is set on a journey that will challenge everything he knew about the world, Prentisstown and also himself.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a gripping and provocative read. It comes bearing with heavy and challenging themes, but they are executed with sensitivity and thought. At times, it may be a difficult book to read because of its dark themes, but I implore readers to soldier on and employ introspection to question themselves, and ask why they were disturbed and why it was unsettling. These questions are necessary questions to ask, regardless of how uncomfortable, especially with The Ask and the Answer as its sequel, which is a loaded gun of ideas that are just as challenging and more confrontational.

With its narrative told as a stream of consciousness, which brilliantly portrays the pervasiveness of the Noise and its burden on the psyche, readers are immersed into Todd’s thoughts and consciousness, and can witness how he grows and develops when confronted with challenges laid before him. Not only are characters developed in this book, but the original concepts of this series are also. Noise is such an interesting concept, and would be an excellent point of discussion, especially on its meaning, its symbolism and the impact of Noise if it existed in our world. Furthermore, Ness doesn’t limit his portrayal of Noise to words, but also utilizes colours and symbols (Geertz, anyone?) to convey meaning and emotion – proof that dialogue goes beyond mere words.

And on a side note, I loved Manchee. He is my favourite. (Ow, Todd?)

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a rare find of a book, and I loved it so much more than I thought I ever would. As much as I’d love to give a detailed analysis of this book, I’m restraining myself because I think everyone should read this book and this book is best read not knowing any spoilers. Read this book.

Rating: 4/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Book Series: Chaos Walking #1
Author: Patrick Ness
Pages: 479
Publisher: Walker

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

the raven boysThere was a reoccurring thought running through my mind while reading The Raven Boys: this is the book that young adult writers should strive to write. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater is a breath of fresh air that comes with clever writing, a fantastic narrative, memorable, complex characters, and a setting that makes you feel small in a large world filled with mystery and the unknown.

For as long as she could remember, Blue has been told that she will kill her true love. Among a family of clairvoyants, Blue has no powers, except that her presence strengthens the powers of others. However, one night a soon-to-be-dead spirit speaks to her, and he tells her two things: his name and “that’s all there is”. Following that night, Blue’s fate intertwines with the Raven boys – four boys who attend Aglionby, the local private school, but are much more than their pristine sweaters, prestige and wealth. Together, they develop friendships, discover ley lines, transcend our dimension of reality, and search for a long lost king.

The Raven Boys is one of those books that unfurls slowly; you gain a gradual understanding of the story, the characters and the paranormal elements of the book – similarly to how Blue comes to understand the four Raven boys and their unorthodox quest. This book is deeply imaginative and curious by nature. It felt larger than life, and the magic and power in the story felt beyond our realm of realism. It made me feel small in an infinite world and universe, with so many things that I don’t understand and possibly could never, ever conceptualize — and though this feeling may be unsettling, it reinvigorated a sense of curiosity and thirst for discovering new things in me. I like books that remind me that I am capable of having these feelings.

One of the biggest qualms I have with young adult writers is how they attempt to capture the psyche and voice of older teenagers; some lean towards angst, some lean towards confusion. However, Stiefvater’s characters are complex, burdened with ambition, focus, naivety, loyalty, stubbornness, and values and morals unique to their history. Her characters feel whole, real and authentic – especially Adam, one of the Aglionby boys, whose character development treads on very sensitive but necessary issues. More importantly, Stiefvater’s characters are relatable, and their struggles touch upon issues that teenagers may face – beyond what we may judge or assume at face value. Either Stiefvater remembers what it was like to be a teenager or she knows how to write deep characters and friendships that readers can truly empathize with.

For the first half of the novel, I had no idea what direction the story would take. There were so many mysteries and characters and motives converging towards the centre, and there are many questions left unanswered by the end of the book, which aroused my curiosity more than it disappointed me. Though how it ties together in the end wasn’t as exciting as the journey, the last words of the book left me feeling intrigued – enough that I’m inclined to give the second book a go in the future. (Was the ending a little cheap? A little. But given the context of the book and the nature of the genre, it worked.)

I often don’t say this, but if you read young adult novels and you’re looking for something worth your time, The Raven Boys is a must-read. It’s intelligent, well-written, has characters that you will grow to care about, and has a story that’s as inquisitive as you will be.

Rating: 3/5

Book Information
Book Name: The Raven Boys
Book Series: The Raven Cycle #1
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Pages: 416
Publisher: Scholastic Press