Friday, May 7, 2010

Review/ The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony McGowan

Friday, May 7, 2010
Paul Vanderman could be at any normal high school where bullies, girls, and annoying teachers are just part of life. But “normal” doesn’t apply when it comes to the school’s biggest bully, Roth a twisted and threatening thug with an evil agenda. When Paul ends up delivering a message from Roth to the leader of a gang at a nearby school, it fuels a rivalry with immediate consequences. Paul attempts to distance himself from the feud, but somehow Roth keeps finding reasons for him to stick around. Then one day Roth hands him a knife. And even though Paul is scared, he has never felt so powerful. (Publisher's summary from book flap)

I first posted about The Knife That Killed Me on one of my Waiting on Wednesday posts. I had picked up Jack Tumor, Anthony McGowan’s funny but poignant book about a boy with a talking tumor and mentioned in my WoW post that if The Knife That Killed Me was anything like Jack Tumor then I really wanted to read it. Surprisingly, McGowan left a comment on my post to tell me that his new book was definitely not humorous but in fact a “dark, dark, thriller with an unpredictable twist.”  Boy was McGowan right!

The Knife That Killed Me is a compelling read. McGowan hooked me in the very first page, by describing an ancient knife with magical runes made from a meteorite and forged in Persia. The cursed knife’s history spans generations and as I read I was sucked into the narration, which then makes a 180 degree turn when the narrator’s voice turns and admits the knife that killed him wasn’t a special knife at all, but a kitchen knife from Woolworth. With this turn, McGowan begins to build Paul’s voice, which is strong and real. The tension in the story is palpable and builds continually through out.  Paul describes vividly each incident in a series of events that leads to the startling climax and conclusion of this dark tale, and his commentary is grippingly honest about how being bullied feels...

“I could feel my self blushing. That might seem weird to you, but one of the main things about getting picked on is it makes you ashamed. I felt a pressure building up inside me, made out of the shame mixed up with anger and fear. Some of the other kids in the class noticed what was happening. Some of them looked at me and then looked away, feeling bad, feeling pity. Some joined in with the sniggering, glad it wasn’t them.”

Rotha, the bully, in the story is one of the most evil characters I have run across in a novel. He is not a bully you can ignore and he will just go away. He is brutal, yet clever at manipulating those around him through shrewd intimidation. Paul falls victim to Rotha’s manipulation describing  the experiences as a “soft intimate” encounter that gave him a “warm glow…a kind of happiness warmth and peace” at not being the victim of  Rotha’s brutality. Instead, Rotha pulls Paul into a devious plot to engage a rival gang in a fight that leaves in its wake the innocent murder of one of Paul’s friends. While I definitely see Rotha as the villain in this story, Paul’s choices cannot be overlooked, and although in the end I did feel compassion for Paul and even understood on some level why he acted as he did, I also was aghast. My strong reaction is a testament to McGowan’s skill as a writer. This is definitely not a story for the faint of heart, but I think it is a story that needs to be read and would hope the experience would make teens think twice before allowing a bully to terrorize them or to indulge in bullying others.
 Book purchased from Amazon.


Lizzy said...

I hadn't heard about this one before, but it sounds really interesting. I'm really interested in the topic of bullying, especially with the recent tragedies associated with it. It seems like McGowan did a great job describing what bullying is like. I'll have to check this one out.

ReadingRainbow said...

I had never heard of this story and now I want to read it lol What an amazing review!

Stephanie said...

I have had my eye on this book because of the memorable title. :-) It sounds like a terrific story, dark and suspenseful. I'll be looking for it.

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