Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"The Ask and the Answer" by Patrick Ness

Summary: The Ask and the Answer picks up right where The Knife of Never Letting Go ends.  Todd and Viola have finally made it to the town of Haven, only to discover that Mayor Prentiss and his army have already taken over the town and renamed it New Prentisstown.  Once in New Prentisstown, Todd and Viola are separated.  As Mayor Prentiss garners more control of the town, Todd finds himself drawn into the Mayor's activities--whether he wants to or not.  Meanwhile, Viola begins her involvement with The Answer, a women's counter-resistance organization bent on bringing down Prentiss.  Along the way both Todd and Viola must face difficult decisions about what is right.

Musings: The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first book in the trilogy,  is a non-stop engrossing action book, and The Ask and the Answer is no different.  I had planned to read for an hour or two, but instead I read the entire novel straight through and let out a bit of a shriek when the book ended with a great cliffhanger.

The first novel follows Todd's thoughts, but The Ask and the Answer alternates between Todd and Viola, which gives the reader a good view of what is happening on both sides. This book also goes even darker than the first novel.  Its use of violence and torture was disturbing, but fortunately was used to make a point rather than just be explicit.  Nevertheless, it probably is the most violent YA book I've read.

When I teach Lord of the Flies to my 9th graders, we discuss the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram's obedience experiment as a way of considering why "good" people do bad things and why "good" people obey terrible orders.  The Ask and the Answer address both of these issues head on.  I was impressed with the way Ness was able to blur the lines between the hero and the enemy, the right actions and the wrong.  He also skillfully addresses issues like slavery, pointing out that feeling bad about being a slave-owner doesn't make one any less of a slave-owner.

The complexities of the characters' choices alone make this a worthwhile read, but the novel also has interesting characters and a quickly moving plot.  I may have even enjoyed this more than the first novel, which gives me great hopes for the last book in the series, Monsters of Men, due out later this year.

**This book fulfills the first part of the "young adult" category of the TwentyTen Reading Challenge.

1 comment:

  1. I cannot wait for Monsters of Men!

    I also shrieked when that cliffhanger ending showed up, 'cause...omg, what a cliffhanger!

    I really loved both Todd's and Viola's arcs, and thought Ness did a great job of blurring the lines between 'good' and 'evil.'