Book Review: The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Genres: Young adult, science fiction, dystopia.

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men. Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss.

Spoiler note:  This review contains some slight spoilers.

The Ask and the Answer the thrilling sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go. It covers extremely vital and realistic themes, which I wasn’t expecting. There are themes of power, loyalty, oppression, war, segregation, sexism, resistance, manipulation and genocide. There is so much packed into this sequel, all hugely powerful and harrowing themes to explore in young-adult literature – and who says it has no substance? No worth?

I actually enjoyed – if that’s the right word – this book more than the first because of how truthful it was. The reader feels like they’re actually in New Prentisstown. The reader does not know who to trust, which action to take. We’re perplexed, bemused amongst the chaos and manipulation. We suffer with Todd, yet feel like we shouldn’t feel sympathy. The way the indigenous population, the Spackle (or the “Spacks”, the slur they are called by their captors), is treated is reminiscent of the forced labour camps and genocide in WW2. In a way, Todd is no different from the Soviet guards in control of the forced labour camps that held Baltic prisoners.  The Spackle are tortured, treated as animals and forced to work to perpetuate their own slavery (this reminded me of how the Baltic peoples in the Arctic were forced to build their own settlements to protect them from the cold, even though it was a futile task). The Spackle, and the women, are permanently branded like livestock. Removing the mental branding will mean they’ll slowly bleed to death. Todd is essentially a reluctant Soviet guard, slowly becoming one of those he fought against, adopting the same mentality. Can he be brought back?

Meanwhile, war is brewing on both sides. In New Prentisstown, there are relentless, unfeeling men following the President Prentiss’s commands, whilst the women, breaking out of gender stereotypes imposed on them, are on the outskirts creating their own army. Both commit inhumane, implausible acts, which raise questions such as: Can peace be achieved without violence? Is it justifiable to kill a small minority to protect the majority?

This book is just as fast-paced and action-packed as the previous. It reminds us that psychological control is just as effective, if not more effective, than physical control. It is a highlight in young-adult fiction, showing us that it is able to raise powerful discussions about ethics and history.

I can’t say I am looking forward to Monsters of Men. I can feel a war forthcoming.

My Rating: ★★★★