Tuesday, September 8, 2009

REVIEW: The Ask and the Answer

Ness, P.  (2009).  The Ask and the Answer.  London:  Walker Books.

Interest Rating: !!!!
Well ladies and gents, the second book in the Chaos Walking series came out toooooooday!  It has, however, been out in Great Britain for several months now (not fickin' fair!).  And I managed to steal a copy from one savvy American who got ahold of a British copy.
The sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go begins with the end.  Literally, the title of the section is "The End."  And the story picks up minutes? hours? after book one left off.  Which is good in terms of enjoyment...but it's not so good in terms of trying to describe the story, since it would give away the cliffhanger ending of the previous book.  Hmmm.  Dilemma.  I know!  I'll be vague.  Todd continues to face the problems set up in the previous novel.  Said problems remain unresolved for the most part.  More stuff happens.  Begin the wait for the third book in the series.  Vague enough?
But seriously now.  It's still 14 days until Todd's birthday, until he becomes a man.  Captured by his enemies, Todd's main focus is on being reunited with Viola, but he spends a fair amount of time trapped on the platform of a belltower, sent to work during the day organizing enslaved aliens.  
While the world initially seems to accept a transitioning in power (being intentionally vague here), the peace does not last and a splinter group of people denied freedoms begin setting off bombs throughout the city.  Todd and Viola must decide whose side they are on, if any, and find a way to survive or maybe even escape the chaos around them.
A major difference between this book and the previous one is that The Ask and the Answer is told both from Todd and Viola's perspectives.  Viola finds herself in a healer house for women, sectioned off from the men, with many freedoms denied to her and the others.  While she searches for any information of Todd she also finds herself positioned as a potential spy and asset for both the new government and those that fight the recent transition in power.
As with the last book, this work of science fiction deals with some tough issues and I have to admit I found almost no moments of levity compared to the few that existed in the previous novel.  I also struggled with Todd and Viola's desperate need to be together (not necessarily in a romantic way).  Given the traumas they endured in the previous novel, it made sense that they would look to each other for support, but as I was reading, their relationship felt vaguely Bella and Edward Cullenian.  Ick.  But that didn't last long, as Todd and Viola find themselves on different sides of a chaotic war, demonstrating war is much more complicated than black and white and there are no innocents left.  Ness does an amazing job of slowly creating doubt among his characters and uncertainty of any truth.
Activities to Do with the Book:
This is an excellent book for young adults to enjoy.  This series is a good recommendation for teens, especially boys fond of science fiction or alternate realities.
Discussions a teacher could provoke involve the use or avoidance of names, gender, different perspectives on issues and history.  There's also questions of morality and ethics that touch on issues of power and parallel the way that many Nazis "just did as they were told" at the Holocaust camps.  A teacher could have students consider the choices Todd makes and reflect upon how they would act in such situations.
Favorite Quotes:
"Your noise reveals you, Todd Hewitt.
A voice-
In the darkness-
I blink open my eyes.  Everything is shadows and blur and it feels like the world's spinning and my blood is too hot and my brain is clogged and I can't think and it's dark-" (p. 3).
"Cuz this is the end, ain't it?
Then end of it all.
The Mayor has me.
The Mayor has her" (p. 5).
"This is the end.  It's gotta be the end.  They won't let me live.  They won't let her live." (p. 13).
"I breathe into the darkness.
"You could bee a leader of men, Todd.  You have proven yourself very special."
I keep breathing, trying to hold on to it but feeling myself slip away" (p. 18).
"And that's all there is of New Prentisstown.
Home to three thousand, three hundred people, all hiding in their houses, so quiet they might be dead.
Not one of them lifting a hand to save theirselves from what's coming, hoping if they're meek enough, if they're weak enough, then the monster won't eat 'em.
This is where we spent all our time running to" (pp. 30-31).

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