The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


Now a major motion picture, the first novel in the riveting Chaos Walking trilogy by two-time Carnegie Medalist Patrick Ness.

“Narrated with crack dramatic and comic timing…. The cliffhanger ending is as effective as a shot to the gut.” –Booklist (starred review)

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him – something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.


This book and subsequent series took me by surprise. I had read “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by the author, and after finishing was instantly attracted to this book based on the title and the premise. If you like philosophical sci-fi and Young Adult books, this will 100% be your cup of tea. Even as someone who usually doesn’t vibe with YA, I loved my time with this book.

The Knife of Never Letting Go starts with a simple premise and evolves into something that asks a lot of questions about exactly who we are and why we do what we do. Exploring the idea of a male-only society full of people who can always hear each other’s thoughts, the first startling moment comes when Todd, the protagonist meets Viola, the only girl he has ever met and the only person whose thoughts he can’t read.

What transpires is an epic journey of self-discovery and high stakes as Todd discovers that everything he knows to be true is only part of a bigger, darker picture. The next books, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, expand upon these ideas and settle into a perfect resolution.

One of the things I loved about this work beyond the normal scope of vivid character work was the villain. If you know me, you know I love manipulative villains that believe they are in the right. I don’t want to spoil anything other than Todd’s relationship with the villain takes several twists and turns I didn’t see coming, and it really made me consider the nature of empathy and companionship.

My only criticism is that it takes a bit of a tonal shift between the first book and the rest to get where we are going, but what starts as a journey of self discovery becomes a more grounded narrative about the nature of society and social structure.

I enjoyed my time with these books and was bummed when they were over. I was primarily reading these to see if my students would like them, but I became a fan myself. Nothing is better than the way good fiction can hold up a mirror and makes us ask the deep questions about ourselves that we normally never ask.

So take hold of this story and, like the titular knife, never let go.