Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Ask and The Answer

by Patrick Ness
Read: October 29-November 3
Published: September 8, 2009 by Candlewick Press.
Source: Library book
Category: Sci/fi, Fantasy YA
Series: Chaos Walking book 2

NOTE: The Ask and The Answer is book 2 in The Chaos Walking trilogy. If you have not read The Knife of Never Letting Go, see my review HERE and be warned of spoilers below.

Part two of the literary sci-fi thriller follows a boy and a girl who are caught in a warring town where thoughts can be heard — and secrets are never safe.

Reaching the end of their tense and desperate flight in THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, Todd and Viola did not find healing and hope in Haven. They found instead their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss, waiting to welcome them to New Prentisstown. There they are forced into separate lives: Todd to prison, and Viola to a house of healing where her wounds are treated. Soon Viola is swept into the ruthless activities of the Answer, aimed at overthrowing the tyrannical government. Todd, meanwhile, faces impossible choices when forced to join the mayor’s oppressive new regime. In alternating narratives — Todd’s gritty and volatile; Viola’s calmer but equally stubborn — the two struggle to reconcile their own dubious actions with their deepest beliefs. Torn by confusion and compromise, suspicion and betrayal, can their trust in each other possibly survive? (from Goodreads)

This book nearly killed me. 

Reading The Ask and The Answer wasn't a particularly fun experience for me, but I realize it wasn't supposed to be either. I appreciate the lengths that Patrick Ness went through to tell his story, not shying away from the realities of war and cruel leaders. He certainly proved himself capable of this in book 1. But while The Knife of Never Letting Go had difficult scenes, I felt like there were more moments of levity. And the big painful parts were also quite profound. The Ask and The Answer was one long teeth clench from beginning to end, with a few very brief moments of relief thrown into the mix. Although I can already see glimpses of the brilliance of this series as a whole, I’m a very emotional in the moment reader, and that made it very hard for me to get through this story.

At the end of The Knife of Never Letting Go, Viola is mortally wounded, and Todd has made the horrifying discovery that Mayor Prentiss is now the President and new leader of Haven New Prentisstown. When The Ask and The Answer begins, Todd and Viola have been separated. Todd is a prisoner of the Mayor, and has no idea where Viola is, or whether she is alive. We find out before Todd does that she at a house of healing that is filled entirely of women, because The Mayor has segregated people by gender. It also becomes apparent that both of them is important to the mayor. We always knew there had to be a reason that the Mayor chased Todd all across the country, and finally we discover why. 
“So, who are you then, Todd Hewitt?” he says. “What makes you so special?” Now that, I think, is a very good asking. 
The Ask and The Answer features characters we met in The Knife and also introduces us to some new faces. No one brought out more emotion from me than the Mayor President. Let's just say that he's very good at what he does. The fact that he's not my favorite person is an understatement. He makes me shudder so badly, but I'm going to let you discover for yourself what I mean by that. Below is a list of some of the people to pay attention to in this book. Many of them surprised me - some in good ways some in bad - and I could say a lot about each of them. But I'd rather spend my time talking about Todd and Viola, because they are who really matter to me. 

President Prentiss
Mayor Ledger
Mistress Coyle
The Spackle 

Because Todd and Viola are separated for large portions of this book, the narration has been split between them. Patrick Ness does an amazing job at distinguishing their voices. We still have Todd's perspective, and his noise is just as loud. I love that Todd's voice is so unique. Though I did miss some of the quieter inner moments from The Knife, where he does more analyzing. But there was no time for that in this book. Viola's voice in The Ask and The Answer is very clearly different from Todd's. It is far more neat and orderly. I love that it speaks to who she is and how she thinks, just as Todd's does the same for him. Patrick Ness excels at capturing the voice of his characters.

I fell in love with Todd Hewitt in The Knife. He is open and honest, and he rages and gets angry and makes bad decisions. But he's transparent about it all, and I think that is one reason why I love him so much. But Todd is still young and he doesn't always make the best decisions. In The Ask and The Answer Todd is still Todd, but he also goes through quite an evolution. And some of the things that happen truly broke my heart. I was a complete mess during much of this book.

What kept me reading despite the emotional turmoil, is Todd plus Viola. How they've struggled and still grown individually, and also how strong they are together. The bond they developed on their journey in The Knife runs deep. It was forged through shared experiences that would have broken most people, but there is so much power in who they are together - and for each other - and it is truly breathtaking to read about. 

I think this book had the ability to hurt me so much because of how real it felt, and how attached I've gotten to the characters. Some situations disappointed me, and a few nearly broke me, but I was also proud of Todd and Viola, and my world is richer for knowing them. Nobody is perfect and in the end it is the strength of Todd and Viola that stands out despite their failures. We all make mistakes - some graver than others - but as Todd told Viola so long ago, it is what we do after that matters. I needed that reminder when reading this book too. 

Is this a love story?
I love that the bond that Todd and Viola built in The Knife was firm but also pure and clear from complications of the romantic sort. I love relationships built this way, where I can see the FEELINGS below the surface, but they aren't necessary for a bond to be powerful. Despite all that they have faced and their own failures, there is still something that is innocent about these two. And I'm looking forward to what more there is to discover about who they are together. 

Major themes
This book is rich with many themes, and TONS of potential for discussion. But three have really stood out to me in the first two books. 

1) Colonization. I talked about this one in my Knife review too. But this book has a lot to say about what is to be a settler and what it is to be the place and people being settled upon.
2) Gender roles - matriarchal vs. patriarchal societies - Is one better than the other? This subject is also used as a larger discussion on equality and subjugation.
3) "We are the choices we make." This theme comes up in The Knife when Todd is unable to kill Aaron. His choices continue to develop who he is in The Ask and the Answer

Cliffhanger Scale: HIGH! Though I'm slightly less stressed than I was at the end of Knife - that could just be because I was expecting a major cliffy this time.
Love Triangle Factor: Mild
Rating: 4 stars 



    Okay, I know this book stressed you out. I know it did. And I'm SO PROUD of you for sticking it out, because it is so good and such a great step between The Knife and Monsters of Men. These words are better than I would ever be able to say. I'm just, I think I may cry right now.

    Also --> "...and my world is richer for knowing them." YES YES YES

    1. Thank you for working through this book with me! I wouldn't have made it without you. You're going to make ME cry with your sweet words. I'm actually excited to read the last book. Possibly surprisingly. But I want to see where he takes the story next!

  2. I love that those three themes you mentioned are ones that intrigue you because those are the things that really piqued my interest when I was reading The Knife of Never Letting Go.

    When I read your review of this it makes me wish I could have read along with you but I must admit, I'm still scared to read this one. You know how the first book in the series just DRAINED me emotionally. I am really going to have to pysche myself up when I do read it. Seriously, just seeing the mention of the Spackle making more appearances ushers in those feelings all over again...

    I know I NEED to get over it and read, I know I'l be glad after I do. Maybe it will be a good New Years resolution:) Beautiful, heartfelt review, Lauren!

    1. I'll be there when you do decide to tackle this book! It was tough, but as I said, it is a brilliant story. I think I freaked Asheley out with how emotional I got about the book! Ah yes, the Spackle...

      I'm really interested to see how those three themes play out in the final book. I'll probably start it in the next few weeks - when I get done with DoB&S (possibly with a break between). As tough as this was, I'm definitely committed to seeing this through. And reading the book with someone else - or discussing it as I go with someone who's already read it - really helps!


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