I read the last few pages of this book aloud to my boyfriend, trying to explain in Ness’ own words why he should be reading this series. Ness is simply a genius.
Ness has this amazing ability to tie in his story into the title and the cover of his books. In The Knife of Never Letting Go, the cover tied into the story a little, but the title was oh-so important. But as for The Ask and the Answer, the cover is almost a plot point. But one that doesn’t come up until part-way through the story. I tried so hard to explain why this was awesome to the boyfriend. Because all titles and covers tie into their corresponding stories, don’t they? But in metaphorical/symbolic/roundabout ways. With Ness’ work, the covers of every book I’ve read of his (all three of them…) actually are part of the story, shown in a way that’s ambiguous enough to look just like a nice cover until you get to that point of the story and everything comes together.
“But this cover is just a blue A!” I hear you think.
Oh, yes. That’s what makes this so unbelievably delicious.
And the title? Simultaneously covering the main conflict of the story, the main themes of the story, and doing something else that I can’t even explain because it’s a spoiler. There is a spoiler in the title. But so exquisitely hidden that you don’t even realise, and it doesn’t ruin anything for you. Ahh, it’s just brilliant.
Just read this book already!
I also want to talk about the central relationship: Todd and Viola. These two grow up a lot in this book. Chronologically and emotionally. I think they’re somewhere between 15 and 16 in this story as, instead of taking place over about a month, this takes place over about 6 months. Maybe longer. I’m bad at remembering time lines. Either way, these two are not the 14-year-olds they were.
In The Ask and the Answer, Todd and Viola spend a lot of time apart. At least 95% of this book is Todd and Viola trying to deal with the reality of New Prentisstown in different ways. Both of them have been absorbed into opposing parties, both trying to survive while at the same time trying to get back to each other.
This relationship never becomes sappy or romantic or anything we come to expect of a male/female main relationship. These two only have each other on this strange new planet. And they love each other in such a way as to transcend family and romance and friendship. You can feel their connection in every single interaction, but without any categorisation of the relationship. I love this. I love this so much. Todd and Viola are just Todd and Viola. They aren’t friends, they aren’t lovers. They are just them. They would do anything for each other, and have. The closest comparisons I can think of are the relationships between Jem and Will in The Mortal Instruments and the relationship between Sherlock and John in, of course, Sherlock. Both relationships defy definition. And when you try and define these relationships, something is lost in the definition. This is the same for Todd and Viola.
I adore this because it makes such a nice change from most of YA relationships. These two have not kissed. They hug, they cling together, they would kill or be killed for the other (not a spoiler, just a figure of speech), but there is no sappy “I found this flower and it reminded me of you”. Just two young adults who need each other and love each other without boundaries.
Have I ranted enough? I think I have. Moving on now.
Ness utilises structural tricks that not many other authors are brave enough, or brilliant enough, to pull off. Ness uses line breaks, ellipses, and brackets in a way I have never seen. And in scenes of heightened emotion, these structural choices lend an immediacy to these scenes that would otherwise be lacking. I mean, run-on sentences can do a pretty good job at this, but there’s something about having run-on sentences broken up line-by-line that makes everything seem so much closer to you as your read. And I can’t even give you an example without giving away a massive spoiler! Just trust me when I say that Ness handles emotional trauma in a way that makes you feel just as distraught as the characters on the page. Which in this book? Is terrible. I was very nearly in tears. Poor, poor Todd and Viola. And some other characters I can’t mention.
Something I haven’t mentioned is that this book is broken up into two POVs: Todd and Viola’s. These are differentiated by both voice and font. But the font change is almost superfluous, as the voices are so different, so distinct, that you don’t need the visual cues. Not like some split POV YA books I could mention (*coughAllegiantcough*). Even in the chapter that is rapid-fire changes between Todd and Viola’s POVs, there is such depth to these characters’ voices that you would have to be an idiot to mix up these guys. I love this so much. Characterisation is my favourite thing in books. Characterisation and unique use of language. Ness has both of these in spades. Spades and spade and spades.
I know that I have gushed for far too long, but I just want to leave you with this one excerpt. It’s not a spoiler, because it doesn’t give anything away. And this, more than anything, should be reason enough for you to pick up this book:
Muh-y. My. It’s My. I take a deep breath. Dee. Dee-arr. Dee-arr-ess. Dee-arr-ess-tuh. Which is Dearest, which seems mostly right. My Dearest. And the last word is Son, which I know, having heard it so clearly today.
My heart broke reading this scene. But how much mastery over the written word do you need to realistically convey the struggles of trying to read in a book that is obviously being read by someone who can read with ease? Too much. Ness may have just been showing off at this point.