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 is the saddest book I read all last year, and I read some pretty sad books. This is the reason I didn’t start making a list of the best books I’ve read for 2011 until the last minute was because I was waiting for the potential late entry that would make the cut. People, I here present this book.
It’s dystopian, but it’s a very different type of dystopian than what’s currently being published. Rather than taking place on Earth, the story is set on a new planet. Many years ago, colonists from Earth came to settle the land, but in Prentisstown, everything went drastically wrong due to the spackle war and the loss of all the women. Now Mayor Prentiss and his subordinates rule the town using the power of Noise. There might not be fancy technology keeping everyone under surveillance, but there is a pervading fanaticism and ideology keeping all of the men together and solidifying the town via the power of complicity.
I loved the concept of the Noise, the ever-present river of thoughts, dreams, terrors, and lies emanating from men at all times. In the back flap of my copy, it says that Patrick Ness was inspired by the internet and the Information Age and how we’re all inundated with so much information that it’s impressive that we manage to sort through the constant noise of it all. A key feature of a man’s Noise is that it isn’t an exact reflection of himself – it’s still possible (if difficult) to hide your thoughts and lie. But with the arrival of Viola and the emergence of women whom Todd never knew even existed, all of whom have no Noise, he runs headlong into a sense of helplessness and fear. He feels he can’t understand them because, to him, they all sound like pockets of silence. The sorts of questions that arise from this reality – how do you really know someone, how can information and thoughts be utilized or manipulated – run throughout the course of this book. I am curious if in later books a more gendered approach will be taken to the Noise. As of now, it seems like women are seen as enigmas and are incapable of ever being fully understood. I do hope this aspect of Noise is explored, as it’s clear that the division along gender lines is crucial to understanding how and why Noise works and exists.
Todd narrates the story in a semi-illiterate, run-on fashion, and his voice did take a little bit of getting used to. After a while, I grew to love it. There’s no fluff or extra. He gets to the point, describes things as they are in as clear and direct a manner as possible. He’s gruff, but he’s honest and self-aware. And that’s why I fell in love with this character. His whole world has been turned on its head and he’s forced to confront every single thing he thought was true about his existence. He constantly tries to do the right thing and hates himself when he can’t “be a man” and kill his enemies, even though he unreservedly thinks they deserve it. What does it mean to do the right thing, to be an adult, and more importantly, how do you continue to do the right thing after you’ve commmited a crime? There so many threads wrapped up in this story and Tom’s narrative, but it’s told in such a stark, honest, and immediate way.
And then, of course, there’s Manchee and Viola. The former’s relationship with Todd is heartbreaking; Tom didn’t want the responsibility of taking care of a dumb dog in the first place, but Manchee later becomes indispensable, providing companionship, trust, loyalty – pretty much all the usual canine attributes. I’m normally not one for stories about humans and animals bonding to each other, but this one made me want to cry. Thankfully, the bond between Viola and Todd made me want to jump up and down in excitement. Viola herself is a strong, intelligent, and resourceful person. She’s able to see and understand what’s going on in a way that Todd can’t because of all the assumptions he continues to believe in.They form such a good partnership over the course of the book. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been searching for meaningful, non-romantic relationships in my fiction, and this one is a perfect fit. The way they come to depend on and trust each other, how each one sacrifices themselves for the other… it’s great. The best part of the story is when Todd realizes that even though she has no Noise (something that made her untrustworthy and unpredictable for him), he’s learned to read her. Even without Noise, he now knows Viola and who she is. I loved how their journey brought them to this point. There had better not be romance between the two of them later on. Right now their relationship works perfectly fine without it and I know it’ll continue to work and develop even more without it as well.
The most devastating part of this book is the ending. Not only devastating but infuriating and full of despair. WHYYYYYYYYY? Of course, this just means I have to read the second book immediately, which I will try to do.
What this post boils down to is that I loved this book. I loved Todd, Viola, and Manchee, I loved the writing and how Todd tells his story, I loved the presence and use of Noise and all the dilemmas Todd wrestles with about knowledge, killing, connection, and being an adult. Everything. I loved it.
Disclosure – library