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. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode...
I read this book for the Doomsday square on my 2018 Halloween Bingo card.
I have become quite partial to Patrick Ness’s writing, having loved A Monster Calls and thoroughly enjoying The Knife of Never Letting Go. The Ask and the Answer is a solid follow-up to TKONLG, showing us more of this non-Earth world where humanity and the aliens that they call The Spackle must find terms of co-existence and human men must learn to deal with the Noise germ, which makes their thoughts visible/audible to everyone around them. As we learn more about the aliens, we realize that they are dependent upon on the Noise to communicate with one another, but it causes major privacy concerns for human men; for some reason, the germ doesn’t affect women.
But privacy of thought is only one concern in this world—the Mayor of Prentisstown, where Todd grew up, is out to become president of the whole world and he doesn’t care what happens to people who get in his way. He recognizes Todd as a person of principles, who may do something wrong but gets back up and tries to set it right or do better. This second installment sees Prentiss try to recruit Todd to his cause, mostly manipulating him through his loyalty to Viola. I think it is also admirable that Todd is able to identify his emotions and admit that he loves Viola and to stand by her. So often, I feel like men and boys are encouraged to refuse to acknowledge their feelings, leaving the women in their lives wondering if they care at all. I guess this is one benefit of the Noise—Viola knows that Todd loves her.
The differences in the way that Noise affects women and men naturally divides them. Prentiss can’t trust women, because he can’t know what’s going on in their heads. As a result, women find themselves separated and confined quite quickly, which naturally makes the women fearful, resentful, and unwilling to go along with his program. But women aren’t going to take the change in government without a struggle—many women go into hiding and provide violent opposition. Then we get to explore the whole who is a freedom fighter and who is a terrorist question. Both sides twist logic to convince their followers.
I think this would be a great book for high school students, showing conflicts in all their grayness, very little black and white. For although I as a reader identified with Todd & Viola, they do regrettable things along the way and those who think they are on the right side are willing to do violence to make their opinions known. There are so many ethical and moral questions explored, it would make for lively discussions.
If you dislike cliff-hanger endings, you should have the next book teed up and ready to go. I’m willing to let things rest for a while at this point and will probably pick up the last book in early 2019. My reading queue is full until then.