04 May 2009

Book of the Week (12): “The Ask and the Answer” by Patrick Ness

[NB Spoiler alert – don’t read this recommendation if you haven’t yet read The Knife of Never Letting Go!]

One of the most anticipated teen novels of the year (at least on my list) is out next week. The second volume of the ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy is, in my opinion, even better then the first, The Knife of Never Letting Go, winner of both the 2008 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the 2008 Booktrust Teenage Prize. The trilogy follows the adventures of Todd, an illiterate teenage boy living on an alien planet where a virus has infected all the men so that their thoughts can be heard (referred to as The Noise).

The first volume ended on a serious cliff-hanger – Todd, having escaped from Prentisetown, and chased by the Mayor’s army, finally arrives at Haven, the dying Viola in his arms, only to discover that, well, it isn’t a haven at all. The Ask and the Answer picks up from this point to deliver a gripping, fast-paced maze-like page turner full of surprising twists and turns. All this without neglecting to stir up some thought provoking questions such as what is the price of resisting evil – can one really stay uncontaminated? Where does justice end and terror begin? Can every action be justified in the name of love?

The novel switches between two voices and two points of view, who describe candidly the violent consequences of the struggle for ultimate power between the Mayor and the opposing, mainly female, resistance group The Answer. Unlike many fantasy novels, in The Ask and the Answer the boundaries between good and evil are blurred, which makes it so much more relevant in the context of the slices of real life that we are exposed to on the news every day.

Can’t wait for volume three!

Recommended by Noga Applebaum

  • Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban is a fantastic novel set 2000 years after a nuclear war, in which a boy is also forced to set out on a dangerous journey. Ridley tells his story in the garbled language of the future, and it is up to the reader to decipher what is really going on – fascinating stuff.
  • Feed by M.T. Anderson is also set in a dystopian America controlled by huge corporations, in which teenagers are implanted with an advanced version of the internet in their brain, and so are constantly bombarded by useless information.

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