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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the "Chaos Walking" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Thirteen-year-old Todd Ness is the last boy in Prentisstown, an outpost of settlers on a planet other than Earth. Settled 10 years before Todd was born, most of the other settlers on the planet were killed by Spackles, indigenous creatures to the planet.

When he turns 14 in a month, he will be considered a man. All of his friends have already “become men,” so they can no longer play with him. For some time now, Manchee, his dog, has been his only companion. It is not so bad as Todd is able to hear Manchee’s thoughts, just as he can hear every other animal’s and man’s thoughts. The same virus that cursed men with this ability also killed all the women in Prentisstown. Todd has been raised by Ben and Cillian, two men who knew his parents well.

Sent by Ben to gather apples in the swamp outside of town, Todd and Manchee discover a place of silence, a phenomenon neither has experienced before. Even the swamp creatures are thinking simple thoughts of food and fear. Manchee tries to find the quiet, but is not able to track it before it moves away.

Todd tries to keep his discovery a secret, but it is impossible. His foster parents are able to hear his thoughts. They insist that Todd must leave Prentisstown. It is something they had planned for a while, and so his backpack is filled with supplies.

Ben leads Todd and Manchee to the river, as Cillian creates a diversion at their farm. As they flee, Ben tells Todd that much of what he has been told in his life is a lie. There are other settlements on the planet that survived.

Ben has provided him with a map and a journal written by Todd’s mother. They hear gunshots. They know that Mayor Prentiss and his men are at their farm and that Cillian has probably been shot. Ben leaves Todd by the swamp and runs back to help Cillian.

As Todd and Manchee run along the swamp, they come face to face with Aaron, the crazy preacher who has already hit Todd once that day. Todd knows that Aaron sent the men from town after him because he heard the quiet. While Aaron strangles Todd, a crocodile attacks the man. Todd escapes and runs right into the quiet, which turns out to be a girl about his age.

Aaron comes through the brush and tries to strangle Todd again, but this time Manchee attacks him. Aaron escapes, but he takes the girl with him. Todd follows, and they fight again. Aaron tries to drown the boy, but Todd repeatedly hits the man’s head with a rock.

When Aaron passes out, Todd knows he should take the knife from his pack and kill him, but he can’t do it. He, Manchee and the girl run away together. She leads Todd to the spaceship that carried her and her parents to the planet. It crash-landed, and her parents were killed. She retrieves a pack of supplies from the craft, and they continue on. When they stop for the night, Todd realizes that she must not have caught the Noise disease that killed all the women. As he thinks this, he realizes she can hear his thoughts. He tries to convince her that she may still survive, but she becomes distraught.

The following morning, they wake to find Mayor Prentiss and a posse close behind them. They cross a wooden bridge over a ravine, and then the girl uses something from her pack to blow it up so their pursuers can’t cross. The girl finally speaks and tells Todd her name is Viola.

Soon they meet Mathilde, an old woman with a rifle, who is not happy they blew up her bridge. Todd is shocked to find another woman alive since he has been taught that all the women died from the Noise disease. Mathilde takes them to her house to meet her husband, Tam. They feed the children and give them a place to stay for the night before taking them to Farbranch, the nearest town.

The people there are hostile to Todd when they hear from his noise that he is from Prentisstown, but Todd does not understand why. Before they can vote whether to allow Todd to stay, an army from Prentisstown attacks them. It seems that every man from Prentisstown now rides with the mayor. Their sole goal is to find Todd. He, Viola and Manchee flee again. The town is on fire behind them.

Davy Prentiss, the mayor’s son, finds them the following day. Todd learns that the men do not want Viola. They are only searching for him. Todd and Davy fight, with Todd eventually pulling his knife on the mayor’s son, but once again, he is not able to kill his attacker. Viola stops Todd from being killed when she tazes Davy with a device from her ship. They leave him tied up and search for a place called Haven, which is supposedly the biggest settlement of people left on the planet.

Todd sees a Spackle near a river, and he has been taught that these creatures are his enemy. He chases the creature down. He is shocked to hear how afraid the creature is of him and how weak it is. Todd kills it anyway and then suffers from guilt as he realizes the creature would never have hurt him.

Like a bad nightmare, Aaron finds them again, stabs Todd and takes Viola. Todd survives, and he and Manchee devise a plan to save Viola. Tragically, Aaron captures the dog as Viola and Todd make their escape. He screams for Todd to return or he will kill the dog. Todd must watch helplessly as Aaron breaks Manchee’s neck.

Todd’s wound becomes infected. Viola finds another town with a doctor who can help him, but the men in the town refuse to listen to Viola about the coming army from Prentisstown. The women are kept outside this town in a dormitory. They are allowed to cook, clean and procreate with the men, but they are not allowed to live with them.

The men keep music playing over loudspeakers to hide their thoughts from the women. In spite of the noise, Todd hears a song that Ben used to sing to him as a child. He follows the sound and finds his foster father.

Todd learns that the mayor’s men killed Cillian. He tells Ben everything that happened to him. The men from the town find them and are convinced they are spies for the coming army. Ben keeps urging them to search Todd’s noise to prove that he does not know anything about the army or about the law. Todd hears that the law demands that any man who leaves Prentisstown be killed.

Ben, Todd and Viola escape. When they stop to rest, Ben finally explains what happened in the past. The Noise germ was something that happened naturally, as soon as the settlers left their spacecraft. The Spackle had nothing to do with it. The constant Noise, however, drove some of the men crazy, and that is when they started the war with the Spackle.

When the Spackle fled, the men were left with the Noise. Some, especially those in Prentisstown, began to despise the fact that the women were silent. Aaron and Prentiss began to spread lies that the women were evil and had to be destroyed. Although Ben and Cillian did not agree, they did not fight the others because Todd’s parents had begged them to keep their son alive.

A few women escaped to tell the other settlers what had happened. It was then that the men of Prentisstown were exiled to their small piece of land. Any men who left the area had to be killed so they would not spread their hatred further. When Davy Prentiss finds them again, Ben sacrifices his life so Todd and Viola can escape.

Before Todd and Viola reach Haven, Aaron attacks them again. Todd finally realizes that it is a rite of passage in the town. All boys must kill someone in order to become men. That way, no man in Prentisstown can ever claim he has no blood on his hands.

Aaron demands Todd kill him to fulfill his destiny, but Todd refuses. Aaron attacks Viola, to spur Todd’s anger. He and Todd fight, but still when Todd has an opportunity to plunge his knife into Aaron, he doesn’t do it. Viola is the one who eventually stabs Aaron, but the man continues live. Beaten to a bloody pulp and stabbed several times, he stumbles over the edge of a waterfall to his death.

Shaken and exhausted, Viola and Todd walk the final miles to Haven but are stopped by Davy Prentiss. He shoots Viola. Todd fights him and then carries Viola to the town, only to discover Mayor Prentiss and the men from Prentisstown have already captured it.

Todd can no longer hear the mayor’s thoughts. Prentiss informs him that he is now President Prentiss of New Prentisstown. Todd recognizes they have run right into a trap, and the only thing he can do is beg for Prentiss to save Viola.

Christian Beliefs

Aaron is the pastor in Prentisstown. He is abusive, insane and seemingly indestructible. His thoughts often roil with terms like sign from God and the path of the saint.

Todd tells Viola that Aaron preached about hellfire, damnation and judgment. He also believed they were living through the end of the world. He would constantly tell the men that God hears their sinful thoughts and that if one of the men falls, all the men fall. Viola says that the pastor on the spaceship was kind and gave them hope.

A character exclaims, “Heaven help ye.” The people of Farbranch were church settlers who hoped to leave technology behind them and live simpler lives. Ben explains that the first settlers came to the planet hoping for an Eden, but the Noise made that impossible. He says that war is the devil. Todd learns from his mother’s journal that she had hoped to settle this new planet with God as her guide. Todd utters, “Thank God.”

Other Belief Systems

The Spackle do not have a religion that anyone recognizes. Tam tells the children that he prays to all his gods that they never find out how bad war can be. Some consider Mayor Prentiss a god.

Authority Roles

Todd has grown up in the care of Cillian and Ben, his foster fathers. Cillian is more authoritative and seems less compassionate than Ben, but Todd later realizes that it was all done so that he would not discover the truth about Prentisstown’s past. If Todd’s thoughts remained pure, then he might convince another town to let him stay. Cillian and Ben both sacrifice their lives for Todd. Aaron and Mayor Prentiss, the authorities of Prentisstown, are power hungry, violent and insane.

When Aaron first appears, he punches Todd in the mouth for swearing. He attacks Todd and Viola several times throughout the book and kills Manchee. Later, it is discovered that Aaron is trying to provoke Todd into killing him so Todd will join the rest of the men of Prentisstown who have blood on their hands. Aaron considers that this death would be a noble sacrifice. It was because of his teachings that the women of Prentisstown were killed.


Profanity is used throughout the book, but often written in Todd’s vernacular. God, Christ and Jesus are used as exclamations, alone and with the words oh my, Almighty, d--n, H. D--nit, and thank. Holy crap is also used as an exclamation. The vernacular eff and effing is used repeatedly throughout the story. D--n is used as well as the slang, d--nayshun and dammit. H--- and h---fire are also used. Someone is called a sunuvahoor. Other objectionable words are p---ed, doofus, poo, farting and butt.

The violence starts in the first chapter with Aaron punching Todd in the face for swearing in his thoughts. Every fight is graphically described and blood-filled. Throughout the story, Aaron punches, kicks and strangles Todd and Viola, all in an effort to get Todd to kill him. Aaron and others repeatedly kick and hit Manchee when the dog tries to protect Todd.

Todd fights back, hitting Aaron in the head with a rock, letting a crocodile attack him and repeatedly punching Aaron in the face, but Todd does not use his knife to stab Aaron, which would assure his death. Aaron seems almost invincible as he constantly appears to be dead but then “resurrects” to attack Todd and Viola. Viola ends up repeatedly stabbing Aaron, but even then, the insane pastor stands up. He is only killed when he plunges over a waterfall.

In the beginning of the story, even Todd kicks Manchee because the dog’s thoughts annoy him. In a graphic and heartbreaking scene, Aaron snaps Manchee’s neck while Todd watches. Todd believes a teacher shot himself, but later learns he was killed by one of his friends as his “initiation” into manhood.

Todd thinks about using a hammer to pound in Aaron’s head. As the men from Prentisstown come for Todd, Cillian stands guard at the house. He punches a man in the face, knocking him out. Cillian is burned alive when they set fire to his house. Ben creates a diversion so that Todd and Viola can escape. Davy Prentiss kills him.

The men from Prentisstown destroy the towns they come across in their search for Todd. They kill men, women and children and set the towns on fire. Todd eventually snaps and kills a nonviolent Spackle because he was taught they were vicious. Even as he stabs the creature, he can hear from its thoughts that it would not have hurt him.

Davy Prentiss shoots Viola. Todd manages to punch Davy in the face so that he slips from his horse but is still caught by the reins. Todd slaps the horse so it drags Davy behind it through the forest. In almost every chapter, Todd is brutally attacked by someone or something.


Since Todd can hear every man’s thoughts, he knows that many have thoughts of their wives. One man thinks of his wife with no clothes on. The men often think about sex. Todd eventually begins to be attracted to Viola, but he never acts on it and tries to keep these thoughts from his mind. Cillian and Ben are Todd’s foster fathers. The two men live together and love each other, but the nature of their relationship is never described in detail.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: There is a bar in Prentisstown where the men go to get drunk. Todd describes one man as “dying of drink.”

Lying: Even though they can read each other’s minds, the men have learned to cover the truth even in their thoughts. Todd and Viola must lie in order to survive. The men of Prentisstown lie about what happened to all the women.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Patrick Ness






Record Label



Candlewick Press


On Video

Year Published



2014 YALSA Outstanding Books for the College Bound; 2009 ALA (American Library Association) Best Books for Young Adults; and many others


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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