In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chaos Walking

Dear Annie,

Reading with Isabel sounds so delightful -- such a great stage.

I though I'd fast-forward about 15 years to a great YA trilogy which I've just finished.  There are two excellent just-completed YA trilogies floating around these days, both of which I wrote about back in May.  The one which has been getting all the attention these days is the Hunger Games trilogy, of which
is the newly-released conclusion.  That one's still on my bedside table -- I haven't read it yet but would love to hear from our YA fantasy fan readers what they think of it.

The series that's been keeping me from reading Mockingjay is called Chaos Walking; the three books of the trilogy are The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men,  to be released at the end of this month.  The author, Patrick Ness, grew up mostly on the U.S. west coast, but has been living in London for the past decade.  Like the Hunger Games series, it pits teenage protagonists against manipulative controlling political leaders in a dystopian future.  In Chaos Walking, the future is on another planet where people from our planet have gone to create a new society.  The settlers discovered two unexpected facts about the new world: it was inhabited already, by a populace they name The Spackle, and a native virus has made all men's thoughts constantly audible -- but not women's.  The first two books explore how the inequality of privacy -- which is how the humans experience "the Noise" -- affects the society.  The third book brings in both new human settlers unfamiliar with what's been happening among the local humans, and two fascinating Spackle characters.  It turns out that audible thoughts are the Spackle's only -- and very effective -- means of communication, both one-to-one and across the entire planet.

These books start with personal violence, and move on to repression and war -- lots of blowing things up and death, especially in Monsters of Men.  But that's kind of like saying that the Hunger Games books are about a TV reality show where teenagers are forced to kill each other.  Yes, those are the plots.  But the authors use those plots to explore the complexities of human nature in very teenage-friendly ways.  Patrick Ness has an incredible ear for language.  He creates different voices for each of his main characters that submerge the reader in their experience.  Todd, the male protagonist, in battle for the first time:
Is this what war is?
Is this what men want so much?
Is this supposed to make them men?
Death coming at you with a roar and a scream so fast you can't do nothing about it --
and later in the same day, when reinforcements arrive:
"Come!" [the mayor] says to me. "See what it's like to be on the winning side."
And he rides off after the new soldiers.
I ride after him, gun up, but not shooting, just watching and feeling --
Feeling the thrill of it --
Cuz that's it --
That's the nasty, nasty secret of war --
When yer winning --
When yer winning, it's effing thrilling --
I don't feel like I'm doing this excellent series justice.  Suffice it to say that I had to stop reading anything for a few days after I'd finished it because anything I picked up was too much of a disappointing contrast with what I'd just read. So much to talk about in this one..



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