Fiction — print. Candlewick Press, 2009. Originally published 2008. 479 pgs. Purchased.
Soon after arriving on the New World, all the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, allowing them to hear everything each other thinks. As the last remaining boy in a town full of men, Todd Hewitt isn’t allowed to converse with those who have become men, and he longs for the day he can become a man and join the ranks of those living in Prentisstown.
“Everything on this planet talks to each other,” he says. Everything. That’s what New World is. Informayshun, all the time, never stopping, whether you want it or not. The Spackle knew it, evolved to live with it, but we weren’t equipped for it. Not even close. And too much informayshun can drive a man mad. Too much informayshun becomes just Noise. And it never, never stops.” (pg. 390-391)
Before that can happen, though, Todd discovers a spot near the swamp where quiet — blissful quiet — exists. When the men who have raised Todd learn of this discovery, they insist that he must leave the community, handing him a book he cannot read and instructing him to head to the swamp. His dog, Manchee, whose thoughts and barks Todd can hear in English, joins him as he flees from the reach of Prentisstown and the men who ruthlessly rule it.
As he runs across unexplored areas on New World, Todd must face things he fears — the alien natives known as the Spackle whose germ infected the men with the Noise and killed all the women — and things he does not understand, namely the presence of a young girl name Viola. The infection means that Viola should not be alive; the infection means that Todd should be able to hear Viola. And yet neither of those things are true — a fact that upends Todd’s understanding of his past and his future.
Todd’s lack of education is evident throughout the novel. The story, which is told through his point of view, is written almost like a memoir, and words are spelled phonetically throughout the story. My own experience with dyslexia meant these misspellings were rarely an issue for me, especially as I switched between the audiobook and my printed copy.
Yet his lack of education did start to become an issue as the story became rather repetitive. Todd rarely put two and two together without Viola or another character spelling things out for him, and he failed to grow as a character by the end of the novel. I found him simpleminded in an obnoxious way, and I felt little desire at the end of the novel to finish out the trilogy.
The one character I did love? Manchee the dog. Ness wrote that his motivation for writing this novel was two fold: (1) he wanted to explore the idea of too much information that he sees as becoming a problem for Earth’s culture and (2) he had yet to find a book where the talking dog talked the way Ness expected it to.
On the first part of his motivation, I felt his idea was better than his execution. On the second, though, I felt he crafted a wonderful character. I imagined him a bit like Dug the Golden Retriever from the Disney/Pixar movie ‘Up’, which came out the year after Ness’ novel was published, because of his manner of speaking. And I enjoyed how Todd’s feelings towards the dog evolved over time. If the trilogy featured two more books from Manchee, I’d picked them up immediately.
This is my sixth book for #20BooksofSummer. I purchased this book back in December 2015 (or, that’s when I first shelved it on GoodReads).