Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Main character: almost 13-year-old Todd Hewitt
Location: another planet known as New World
Time period: hard to say
Genre: YA Fiction, Science Fiction
Series: Chaos Walking #1

OH. MY. GOD! Seriously, oh my god. Omigod omigod omigod omigod omigod.

I'm having a hard time organizing any coherent thought about this book right now, because I think my brain has exploded. Oh. My. God.

(Takes a deep breath. okay.) Here are the facts as Todd Hewitt knows them and tells them to us. He is the youngest person in Prentisstown. When he is 13 years old he will become a man--that's just one month a way. (BTW, there are 13 months to a year on this world.) Prentisstown is a dying colony on New World. It is dying because there are no women and therefore no chance of repopulating. The colonists left Old World (which was overcrowded and decaying) in search of a simpler, better, purer life. They thought they found the perfect place when they landed on New World twenty years ago. But the native population, the Spackles, began a war. They unleashed a virus which killed all the women. The virus also caused all the men to begin broadcasting their thoughts constantly without any way to silence or filter them. This is called Noise and it is ever-present. But just because everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts doesn't mean that they are all truthful and above-board. Men can still lie in their thoughts, or create louder Noise to hide inconvenient thoughts. Oh, and the Noise includes all the thoughts of all the animals too--though their thoughts are not usually very interesting.

Then one day Todd is sent out to the swamp to pick apples with his dog, Manchee. And while he is there, he comes across silence. It's like a hole in the Noise, and it is overwhelming. Then he comes across a girl where no girl--no females--have been for almost as long as he's been alive. For his own safety and the safety of this girl, whom he insticntively wants to protect, he must leave his home and everything he knows behind. And he discovers along the way that everything he knows is untrue.

With every step, with every discovery that what he knows is wrong, Todd's world shatters a bit more. This was an incredible book and I cannot wait for the second part to come out. (According to the author's blog, it should come out in September 2009.)

Hint of a spoiler coming: Many years ago, I got to hear Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, tell a story of reading Where the Red Fern Grows to his teenaged son. He made the comment that if you find a book that has a picture of a boy and his dog on the front cover, you will be crying by the end. (Where the Red Fern Grows has two dogs on the cover.) I just want to point out that the cover of The Knife of Never Letting Go has Todd, Viola, and the dog Manchee on the cover, and you will be crying by the end.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Two Miserable Presidents by Steve Sheinkin

Main characters: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis
Location: United States
Time period: the American Civil War
Genre: J Non-Fiction, History

How has February already started? Where did January go? It just slipped by and I did not get a non-fiction book done--and after I had challenged myself and everything! (At least I started this book in January--does that count?)

In a forward to this book, the author explains that he once wrote textbooks and he knows why they are so boring--they leave all the good stuff out! As far as quotes go, they avoid any "that are at all funny, amazing, surprising, disgusting, confusing, stupid, mean, or anything else interesting." So in this book, he puts in all the stuff that textbooks leave out.

The two miserable presidents of the title are, of course, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, but the book includes many more people than just those two. It is a very readable overview of the Civil War, told in short segments which focus as much on the people on the home front as it does on the soldiers and battles.

There are so many books on the Civil War and--with the Lincoln bicentennial coming up--on Abraham Lincoln that you'd almost imagine that there's nothing new to say. Yet there were incidents in this book that I had not come across before. My favorite was the story John Burns, a seventy-one-year-old War of 1812 veteran who lived in Gettysburg and, when the battle started, went out with his old gun and joined up with the Seventh Wisconsin. Wounded three times, he survived the battle and met with Abraham Lincoln when he came to deliver the Gettysburg Address.