Tag Archives: patrick ness

The Ask and the Answer

Young adult science fiction novel about fascism, colonialism and sexism

Content warning: fascism, colonialism, slavery and sexism

This author is one of my favourite young adult authors, and I was thrilled to meet him some time ago at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. After the event, he signed a copy of my book and was quite excited to see my name. He told me that he had a talking horse with this name in his series “Chaos Walking”, which at the time I hadn’t read yet but was thrilled to hear. Angharad isn’t exactly a common name in books. Since then I read the first book, but had yet to meet Angharrad the talking horse who it turns out is introduced in the second. If you haven’t read the first book yet, I recommend you read my review of “The Knife of Never Letting Go” instead. Like the previous book, this 10 year anniversary edition has striking black tinted edges and very subtle embossing of slightly shiny black text on the matte cover. It has been sitting on my shelf for far too long.

wp-1596265658372.jpg

“The Ask and the Answer” by Patrick Ness is the second book in the young adult science fiction series “Chaos Walking”. After discovering the truth about what happened to the women of Prentisstown, and meeting Viola, the girl who came from offworld, Todd and Viola arrive in Haven to find that it has been surrendered Mayor Prentiss, who now refers to himself as President of New Prentisstown. Todd and Viola are quickly separated, and Viola is placed in a healing clinic with women healers while Todd is locked up with the former Mayor of Haven. While recovering from her gunshot wound, Viola discovers that there is an underground resistance movement. Meanwhile, Todd is put to work supervising enslaved individuals of the planet’s native species, the Spackle. Unable to contact one another, Viola and Todd start to question their trust in one another.

This is an incredibly hard-hitting novel that picks up immediately where the previous one left off. Ness had already begun to explore the inequality between men and women caused by men developing Noise – the unchecked ability to project their thoughts to everyone around them – as a consequence of colonising the planet in the previous book. However, in this book he explores this issue far deeper and makes vivid connections between the way the Spackle are enslaved and controlled, and the way the women of New Prentisstown are enslaved and controlled. Towards the end of the book, Todd asks men who have been complicit in detaining, assaulting and marking women who they believe is going to be next.

Ness does an excellent job of character development in this book, really exploring what it means to be a man in Todd’s world. Juxtaposing Todd against Davey, Mayor Prentiss’ son, he examines how the two boys react to being made to brand Spackle and direct them to engage in slave labour. He also explores how Mayor Prentiss introduces Todd to control and violence so gradually in a way that is reminiscent of the progression of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, and little by little Todd becomes complicit himself in the very things he condemned. I also found Mayor Prentiss’ use of information as a means of control equally chilling, and Ness draws all these themes together, driving the story towards an explosive conclusion.

One thing that always stands out to me about Ness’ writing is its sophistication, and his ability to reckon with complex themes in a way that doesn’t speak down to young adults but converses with them. A frequent complaint I have of second books in trilogies is that they are often a bit of a sagging bridge between the first book and the last. However, similar to “The Secret Commonwealth“, I actually thought this book was stronger than the first.

A compelling and insightful book that weaves in themes of politics and history while still being a fast-paced and exciting story. I would highly recommend this, and all of Ness’ books, to young adults.

Image of Castor the Sloth, looking through a telescope. #StartOnYourShelfathon The Quiet Pond.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Pretty Books, Science Fiction, Tinted Edges, Young Adult

And the Ocean Was Our Sky

Surreal illustrated retelling of “Moby Dick”

I forgot to mention in my previous review that another major reason for me finally reading “Moby Dick” is that a friend of mine had lent me a copy of this book. I’ve read several of Patrick Ness‘ books before and I was very much looking forward to this one, but it didn’t seem right to try to read it before reading the story it is inspired by. Luckily for me, this one is much shorter.

20200111_164753.jpg

“And the Ocean Was Our Sky” by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Rovina Cai is an illustrated young adult novel that reimagines the classic novel “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville as told from the perspective of a whale. Narrated by a whale who styles herself as Bathsheba, the reader is set adrift in an alternative underwater world where whales have developed technology, have reclaimed the depths of the sea and have themselves become hunters. Third Apprentice in a female-only pod under the command of Captain Alexandra, Bathsheba joins the hunt for the terrifying and monstrous Toby Wick. However, when they find a human man abandoned by his crew and Bathsheba is charged with torturing him for information, her perspective on humans and the ethics of the hunt is forever changed.

This book has haunted me since I read it late last year. Ness is a beautiful writer, and he has created a strange and unsettling world for his whales to live in that are realised with Cai’s sublime illustrations. The whales live in exile, only breaching on the rarest occasions and instead relying on breather bubbles that allow them to swim almost forever underwater. Except, to the whales, they are no longer ‘under’. To them, the ocean is their sky and the air below where the men and their ships live is the Abyss. However, the whales’ world is not an easy one to live in. The pods drag around sunken ships, and their cities are built on precipices. They see themselves as hunters but really they are banished, calling themselves hunters but in reality they are just as hunted.

Toby Wick was probably the element that disturbed me the most. Ness never quite gives enough information to the reader about what exactly Toby Wick is. Going much further than Melville’s white whale, the horror of Toby Wick is in the unknown. Is he a monstrous man, is he a machine, is he some awful hybrid of both? We are never truly certain. Throughout the book, hands are a prominent motif representing the ingenuity and dexterity of, and the terror inspired by, humans.

This is a dark and at times unnerving book that does not provide the reader with many answers, but leaves them instead with a lot of questions. A very original take on a classic story.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Horror, Young Adult

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Dystopian young adult science fiction with a gender twist

I have been reading this author for a while, and I was so excited to meet him in person at the Sydney Writers’ Festival last year. I think that he really is the cutting edge of young adult fiction right now, and when he told me last year that he had a character in one of his series with the same name as me, I knew I was going to have to give it a go. To celebrate 10 years of publication, the series was recently released in these very striking editions with black-edged pages and I absolutely had to have them. It has been a while since I’ve reviewed a book with tinted edges, and there is also a film adaptation currently in production, so I thought I’d better get moving.

20190407_174720718196590.jpg

“The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness is a dystopian young adult science fiction novel about a boy called Todd Hewitt who lives in a place called Prentisstown. In a town inhabited solely by men, where everyone can hear everyone else’s unfiltered thoughts at all times, Todd is the youngest. Spending most of his time alone with his dog Manchee, Todd is waiting for his 13th birthday, the day he will become a man, which is just a month away. However, when Todd stumbles across an impossible silence, everything he thought he knew about his town is thrown upside down.

20190407_184916658137547.jpg

Sorry, my dog was just being too cute not to include this one

When I picked up this book, what I was expecting the satire of “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” or the poignancy of “Release“. However, this is a very different story. One thing I love about Ness’ writing is that he is not afraid to commit completely to exploring a difficult, nuanced issue. In this story, Ness creates a world where there truly is a difference between men and women. He uses what he knows about gender in society and throughout history to take this difference to its horrifying extreme. When I read “The Power“, this was the book I was hoping for and finally I got it. I also really liked that Ness constantly placed Todd in difficult moral situations and did not always let him choose the right way. Todd struggles with feelings of guilt and conflicting interests, and is by no means the perfect protagonist. Ness is also an incredibly versatile writer and there are a lot of subtleties in the language he uses in this book.

As much as I was hooked by this story, I can’t give it a perfect review. There were some things that happened in the narrative that I wasn’t quite sure about. Also, because we learn about the world as Todd learns about the world, there are some big knowledge gaps that we as the readers can identify but where Todd (somewhat maddeningly) doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. I do appreciate that this is a trilogy, so there is still a lot yet to happen, but it is a very ambitious story and I wasn’t always completely on board with the way the story was unfolding.

Nevertheless, Ness is an excellent and relevant storyteller and if I had teenagers, I would be giving them his books.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking Book 1)

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Pretty Books, Science Fiction, Tinted Edges, Young Adult

Release

I received an advance reading copy of this book courtesy of Harry Hartog. This is my second book by Patrick Ness, and I was so so thrilled to meet him at the Sydney Writers’ Festival earlier this year. I absolutely adored “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” and I had high hopes for this book as well.

20180702_181446-927728234.jpg

“Release” by Patrick Ness is a young adult novel that takes place over the span of a single day. Adam is a teenager in a small American town who is just about to start his senior year at school. He has a full day ahead of him: errands, work, a date, helping his minister dad out at church and a get-together-that-is-definitely-not-a-party. Even though his busy life seems fairly normal, Adam has always felt like the prodigal son and even though his friends all know about his sexuality, his family doesn’t. However, on this particular day, after some shock revelations, Adam realises that he can’t keep his feelings bottled up any longer. While Adam is dealing with the world as he knew it ending, the world is genuinely under threat when a lost soul merges with a merciless queen and together they seek revenge.

Wow, this book. I just want to say, before I go into the substance of my review, how lucky teens are today to have a writer like Patrick Ness writing books for them. He is an exquisite writer who captures the nuance of adolescence, intelligence and sexuality and presents the whole messy bundle in a way that anyone can relate to. The story of a gay kid hesitating to come out because he knows his parents won’t react well and worrying that they might love him less is such a common story in real life, but it is so so rare on the page. We need more stories like this and Ness is a genius at portraying that uncertainty and fear that so many kids go through.

I also think that Ness has a real talent for writing about the physicality of being a teenager and having to deal with the new size, shape and function of your body. Importantly, Ness doesn’t talk down to his audience, he talks with them. Ness’ writing has a real sense of purity about it. Adam is such an authentic character. Even when he makes mistakes, or says painfully cringe-worthy things, he remains someone you can completely believe in and someone you can completely connect with.

There’s probably only one thing that I wasn’t quite sure worked in this book which was the fantasy overlay of the spirit of the murdered girl merging with a queen from another world. For the most part, I was pretty skeptical about where that story was going, but then with an incredible flair, Ness tied it all together in a beautiful moment of clarity at the end.

I really cannot recommend this book enough. If you know a teenager who is struggling with their identity or having trouble being accepted, especially if it’s to do with sexuality, this book is perfect.

3 Comments

Filed under Advanced Reading Copies, Book Reviews, Magic Realism, Young Adult

Sydney Writers’ Festival – Writing for YA Books and Film

My third event for the Sydney Writers’ Festival was Writing for YA Books and Film. I was so overcome with the opportunity to see Patrick Ness, I was willing to ignore warnings about the distance between Carriageworks and Parramatta, and leave the previous event early to try to make it in time.

20180505_115245-1840422524.jpg

This event was part of the #AllDayYA segment of the Sydney Writers’ Festival that was taking place at the Riverside Theatres. After a walking, train and Uber combo I finally made it to the event only a little after it has started. YA authors Patrick Ness and Jesse Andrews were being interviewed by Will Kostakis and when I snuck into the front, it looked like the interview was already in full swing.

Ness and Andrews had fantastic rapport from the very beginning. Andrews was talking about plots and how he thinks they’re overrated, and Ness quipped “The only ones who complain about plots are the ones who can’t do it.” Acknowledging that it was maybe a bit mean, Andrew later on asked Ness whether he wanted him to be mean back. Ness vehemently said no, and that “I am way to sensitive for that”. He said, “I tease with affection, but if someone teases me, all I hear is ‘I have always hated you’.”

A big part of the talk was about adapting books for film. Kostakis asked Ness how writing screenplays affects his writing. Ness said that he always encourages writers to try different mediums. He said that there is a big difference between small budget films and big budget films because so many people’s jobs depend on its success. However he did note that his book “Release” was basically unfilmable. Based on “Mrs Dallaway”, it takes place over the course of one day, from sunrise to sunset, and the story is mostly internal.

Ness talked about the difficulties he had with a particular screenplay where he was writing someone else’s story. The film had been in production for 10 years, the story was terrible, but he managed to rewrite it, keep some elements and turn it into a happy family comedy. The author was apparently so mad, he refused to renew the option unless Patrick Ness was fired. Ness leaned back in his chair and said that the film still hasn’t been made, so who is the real winner?

Kostakis asked how the authors felt about collaboration and not knowing how much of the film was theirs. Ness pointed out how much of a high class problem to have, like “not enough foie gras with your brioche“. Essentially though, he recommended that authors whose books have been adapted simply “take the money, buy a new kitchen and forget the rest”. Even when the film has been made, the book still remains.

Now, I cannot continue writing at this point without saying something about Jesse Andrews. Even though he was not the author I had come to see, he was incredibly funny and had a particular brand of visual humour that I’m now very curious to see how it translates into books. At one point he was flailing around in his chair (I can’t quite recall why), and he said “Please don’t take videos of this, it doesn’t translate well!” He actually reminded me quite a bit of seeing Jasper Fforde. I think comedy in books is quite an underrated skill and I think I will have to find myself a copy of “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” to read now. Kostakis was laughing so much at Jesse through the entire event that he didn’t really get the opportunity to say much at all.

At this point, Ness and Andrews took questions from the audience. One lady, who said she was a teacher, stood up and asked about the M-rating that Ness’ film “A Monster Calls” and talked about the difficulties she had experienced trying to show it to her students. Ness was visibly shocked at this question, and couldn’t believe that the film had an M-rating. He said, “it’s not like there were willies showing”.

Another young woman from the audience asked Ness how he felt about killing off main characters in stories. Ness said he felt great. The young woman said that she had played around with almost killing off main characters to which Ness replied “Almost doesn’t mean shit, honey.” He advised the audience to write what you would want to read yourself. If you’re having the best time murdering people left, right and centre, as long as it’s on the page, go for it.

It was hard not to notice that everyone had been asking Ness the majority of the questions, so Andrews jumped in to answer one as a joke. He asked, “Can I pitch Moby Dick in space?” to which Ness replied that his next book is actually going to be narrated by a whale.

The conversation then turned to whether authors can write about anyone. Ness recollected a time he had pitched an idea where every secondary character was a woman – shopkeepers, police officers – and wondered whether anyone would notice. He recommended not asking permission when it came to increasing diversity in your books. Andrews then interjected by singing, “White guys, we’re a bunch of white guys, talking about…” Andrews did go on to make some interesting points however about the make up of bestselling authors generally, and how that leads to certain kinds of characters being overrepresented and questions about who has access to storytelling.

He came back to the question of whether anyone can write about anyone. He said that there is no recipe for when it’s right. You can’t legislate because there is no clear answer except that you need fewer dudes, fewer white guys and fewer hetero people writing stories. Andrews concluded that one of the problems is that the financial backers are so risk adverse. Clearly black superheroes and women superheroes are successful, but there needs to be more diverse executives to invest.

This was really a brilliant event and I’m so, so glad I made the effort to trek across Sydney to see it. The icing on the cake was getting my book signed. The line was absolutely enormous, and I have to say I was amazed that some people had stacks of up to six books to get signed. When I finally made it to the front of the line, Ness was so delighted to sign a book for someone called Angharad. He asked me whether I had read his trilogy yet (which I haven’t), and he told me that he has a character called Angharad who is – wait for it – a talking horse. Now, I get a lot of books signed with the vague hopes that someone will name a character after me, but I have never had an author tell me that they already had written a book with my name in it.

I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, but I did quickly take the opportunity to let Ness know that I wished someone had been writing books like his when I was a teenager. He leaned in and said he did too – that’s why he writes them.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Literary Events

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

This book had caught my eye for a long while before I actually bought it. I’d seen it in two different editions: one with electric blue page edges, and one with sunflower yellow page edges. I’d ummed and aahed over buying it (I don’t read a lot of young adult fiction) but when I saw a copy with the blue edges on display one day at Beyond Q, I hesitated no longer.

20170103_105925.jpg

“The Rest of Us Just Live Here” by Patrick Ness is a somewhat satirical take on the young adult fiction genre. The story is told from the perspective of Mikey, a teenager in his final year of high school who is looking forward to going to prom and graduating with his friends Jarred and Henna, as well as his sister Mel. They’re all trying to live normal lives on the periphery of the “indie kids”; the protagonists in the constant battles against Immortals, or vampires, or zombies, or soul-eating ghosts. While indie kids are dying, mysterious blue lights are appearing and fissures into other dimensions are opening, Mikey’s just trying to sort out some of his own issues as the great expanse of adult life looms closer and closer.

This book was really refreshing. After having read many dystopian YA books in series like “the Hunger Games” and the “Divergent” series which are violent and serious and necessarily far removed from reality, it’s a nice change to read a book that pokes a bit of fun at the genre. I also really liked the way the author handles a variety of mental health issues and deals with sexuality in a modern, fluid and non-judgmental way. I also quite enjoyed the brief summary of the indie kids’ story at the beginning of every chapter which was then juxtaposed against Mikey’s much more mundane, everyday problems. Because let’s face it: coping with mental health issues, dealing with change and figuring out who you are – they are ALL everyday problems.

I think this would be a great book for teens aged 15 or 16 and over – especially those looking for a bit of a break from books that take themselves too seriously.

20170103_110214.jpg

I took a second photo without the dust jacket because it’s just such a pretty book!

6 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Pretty Books, Uncategorized, Young Adult