Originally published on March 12, 2012.
The Knife of
Never Letting Go, was good but took me a while to get into. But with
this one, I was hooked from the moment I picked it up.... which is why I
finished it in just a few days (days during which I was also on a busy
out-of-town trip with my daughters), in spite of the fact that those 3 books I
mentioned for Academic Super Bowl are still hanging over my head (guilt guilt
In The Ask and the Answer, the narration switches back
and forth between Todd (the hero and narrator of the previous book) and Viola
(the dauntless and inspiring settler from Old World). These changes in
narration drew me in immediately. I spent pretty much all of the first book
wondering what Viola was thinking, and finally, I got to find out.... and I have
to say that I found her every bit as brave, strong, and inspiring as I had
hoped. Two books into the trilogy, I'm still just not sure what I think of
Todd. On one hand, he tries really hard and has the best of intentions. On the
other, dang, that guy makes bad choices. So I'm reserving judgment on Todd
until I finish the third book, where I sincerely hope he redeems himself for his
poor choice at the end of this book.
But I'm getting way ahead of
myself. As the book begins, the evil Mayor Prentiss has captured all of New
World with his army and has set himself up of the President of the entire world
(though really, there are probably only about 1000 people on this planet, all of
whom now live closely under his surveillance in New Prentisstown). A mortally
wounded Viola has disappeared, and Todd is held prisoner by the
Mayor/President. The President tells Todd that he has big plans for a boy with
so much potential, but Todd's sole motivation is keeping Viola safe and finding
The President sets up a dictatorial regime. All the women on
New World are moved to living quarters separate from the men. All men are
recruited to the President's army or put to work in other jobs that he deems
useful. All of the Spackle (the aliens native to New World) are rounded up like
sheep and forced to do manual labor while being guarded by armed men. And
anyone that the President thinks might have useful information is tortured until
they bend to his will.
Over time, Todd himself is slowly beaten into
submission. He struggles to maintain his own humanity as the President assigns
him more and more horrific tasks, with his own life and Viola's always hanging
in the balance.
Viola, meanwhile, was taken at the beginning of the book
to Mistress Coyle, the most skilled healer on New World.... and, coincidentally,
a woman with both power and a plan to overthrow President Prentiss. The
President's original hope was to manipulate Viola into becoming his informant,
but she refuses to become anyone's pawn. Mistress Coyle and all of her cohorts
disappear from New Prentisstown, hiding in the wild and beginning a movement
known as the Answer. The Answer raids New Prentisstown for supplies and bombs
various strategic locations around the city, creating chaos. Eventually, Viola
is taken by the Answer against her will.
Both President Prentiss and
Mistress Coyle recognize the sheer will and potential in their young prisoners,
and both seek to turn Todd and Viola to their own purposes. Both Todd and Viola
recognize the evil and power-hungry natures of both leaders and struggle to
determine which side is "right" when both have inflicted so much pain and
suffering on the people of New World. Both are used against their wills to
achieve horrible things, and both wonder if they have lost each other
In many ways, this book reminded me of Mockingjay (the
third book of the Hunger Games trilogy), in its stress on the horrors
of war and the corruption of both alternatives for a leader. But whereas I
thought that Mockingjay was the weak link in its trilogy, The Ask
and the Answer was definitely better than the first book in this trilogy.
The book ends in yet another cliffhanger, with the armies of President Prentiss
and Mistress Coyle poised to attack each other, two more forces appearing
unexpectedly and ready to annhilate both sides, and Todd and Viola separated,
contemplating leadership, and struggling to find what's right.
that I really loved about this book was the repetition of the idea that "we are
the choices we make." While things might have been easier for Todd many times
over if he had just killed the President during one of his many opportunities,
he acknowledges that taking a life would change the essence of who he is.
Another great character was Corrine, the young healer who refused to take either
side in the conflict, opting to take suffering on herself rather than allowing
others to come to harm.
My friend Katie over at YA Book Love says that the third
book (Monsters of Men) is the best of them all, so I'm anxious to get
to the library and check it out. Having finished the second book, I now want to
go back and strengthen my recommendation for the first one, since this trilogy
clearly functions as a whole and it just keeps getting better!