Dying to Know You
By: Aidan Chambers
Karl, aged seventeen, is hopelessly in love. But the object of his affections, Firella, demands proof, and poses him a series of questions regarding his attitude to the many sides of love. But Karl is dyslexic, and convinced that if Firella finds out, she will think he is stupid, and unworthy of her, and leave him. So Karl asks a local writer to help him construct his replies - and an unlikely, but extremely touching, friendship develops between the two men. They both come to learn a great deal about about life from a very different perspective, and when an act of violence shatters their calm, they find their respective appraisal of life shifting in profound ways.
A heart-warming read that is solely relationship based, something that, when done correctly, can be truly touching. That is exactly what this book was. Refreshing and new, but in a quiet sort of way. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Since this was a character and relationship based story, there wasn't all that much plot to speak of, namely that Karl meets the author. I loved the author's understanding of Karl, based on his younger self as it was. (And in a strange way, I really love that the author is never given a name.)
The most intriguing thing about this Young Adult book is that it is not told from the perspective of a young adult, not even close. The narrator is a seventy-something year old man with no children. So how can this be Young Adult, you ask? Well, the main character is a young adult. This is not the narrator's story, but Karl's. That was such an interesting concept and something that you do not encounter all that often, but it worked really well for this story. It was a coming of age story from the perspective of someone long come of age. It was someone who already went through that confusing time observing and describing someone else go through that time. For some reason, in this book it felt like that sideways go at the topic of youth made it hit its point even stronger.
Part of that is due to the fact that the difference between the struggles of the old and the struggles of the young stood in stark relief. The young are trying to find out who they are and what they want to do for the first time; the old know who they've always been and it wears at them that they can't go back and change things.
The relationships in this book felt genuine. It was true-to-life in its portrayal of the true kindness and the true ignorance that both exist in the world. The characters alone were also very realistic. I understood their motives, their emotions, their struggles. For example, I don't like Fiorella, but I get her character. I have known people much like her. She was a character that I had seen and thus, her motives made sense to me. I love how her emails showed just how desperately she wanted to be a great writer (too desperate) with the misunderstanding of big words.
Dialogue was a huge part of this book. Aidan Chambers showed himself to be a master of conversation. The words they said felt like what they should be saying, even when they weren't saying what needed to be said. By that I mean that their language corresponded to their individual character.
I loved the dialogue near the end about what art means and how hard some people who don't understand it try to destroy it. It was bittersweet, yet hopeful.
This book contains a quiet story. It isn't boisterous or exaggerated. It doesn't shout at you. But it does whisper important things, things that could help you in your own life, lessons that all the young must learn. That is what made it so beautiful.
“However much you love somebody, you should always keep a part of yourself to yourself. Never give it all. You can never be yourself otherwise.”
“And trust dies from ifs and buts”
“Rooms are a fixed size, which can't be altered without pulling down walls and building new ones. They should be unchanging in shape and proportions. But sometimes they do change depending on who's in them."
“Life is not like a novel, but a novel can be like life. The best ones always are.”
“For one thing, the dickheads never manage to smash everything. And for another thing, if you, and the people like you, the true artists, keep on making, the philistines can’t smash up everything. There may be fewer of you. Of us. But we win in the end.”