to Know You
starred review April 15, 2012: After the expansive richness
of his last novel, the masterful This
Is All, Chambers has set himself a new challenge: to
write a sparer novel but one that remains a rich experience
for the reader. That he has succeeded will come as no surprise
to his fans. Here's the story: one day a writer receives a visitor,
a young man named Karl who asks for help in writing to his girlfriend.
The boy explains that he is dyslexic, and so the (unnamed) author
reluctantly agrees to help. In the process, he becomes involved
in the young man's life and the young man in his. Then, the
author decides he will write about the experience, and this
novel is what he writes. Though ostensibly a work of nonfiction,
the result is an exquisitely character-driven literary novel
told in a variety of forms: unattributed dialogue, monologue,
e-mail, and traditional narrative told in the 75-year-old author's
first-person voice. Does this mean the novel is not young adult?
By no means, for this is Karl's story and in it he comes vividly
alive and as fully realized and multidimensional as the sculpture
the 18-year-old ultimately creates and - appropriately - places
in the author's garden. Deliberate in pace and carefully insightful
in its investigation of character, Chambers' latest is a work
of art that repays multiple readings. - Michael Cart.
Kirkus Review: Will a story told in believable first-person
voice by a 75-year-old man truly strike a chord with a teen
audience? The answer is yes, though it may be a smallish one.
Karl approaches the older man, an author, with a request. His
new girlfriend, Fiorella, has tasked him with providing a series
of written answers to questions she's composed so that she can
find out more about him. But Karl, an 18-year-old plumber who's
no longer in school, is dyslexic; answering the questions is
beyond him. Seeing something of himself in Karl, the author
reluctantly agrees to help, but acquiring a good understanding
of Karl is hard. Only slowly recovering from grief over his
father's death, the boy doesn't like to talk about himself.
The friendship the two form as Karl gradually gains knowledge
of himself that isn't based on the previous failures in his
life is artfully, touchingly portrayed. It's filtered through
the fictional author's aged point of view, which is punctuated
with prostate issues and his own sorrow over the recent death
of his wife. As Karl matures, the author also changes, finding
a welcome release from his emotional pain. The storyteller's
unique perspective ultimately enhances the tale but also skews
it to a more sophisticated group of readers. This quietly understated
performance captures the wistfulness of music in a minor key
and is ultimately successful in its life-affirming message.
Weekly starred review: Packed to the brim with challenging
ideas, the latest from Chambers - winner of the Printz Award,
Carnegie Medal, and Hans Christian Andersen Award, among others
- is simultaneously an acutely observed (and surprising) love
story; the chronicle of a young man coming into his own as an
artist; and a slippery, twisting examination of the art of storytelling.
Events kick off when an unnamed 75-year-old author opens his
door to an uninvited guest: Karl, an 18-year-old apprentice
plumber, who seeks help fulfilling his literary-minded girlfriend's
demand that he write to her about his "inner secrets." For Karl,
who is dyslexic and naturally reserved, this kind of writing
is nearly impossible. For the namless author, the challenge
enables him to reopen a part of his life he thought had closed
forever. This organic yet intricately crafted story of self-discovery
unfurls mainly through the elderly narrator's first-person account
- which, admittedly, may not be an easy sell for teens - as
well as e-mails and instant messages. For readers savvy enough
to engage with it on its many levels, this is a generous gift.
Lumpkins in LumpLit.com This story hit me like a breath
of fresh air right from the beginning. A stream of back and
forth dialogue is used at the start of the book and is employed
heavily throughout the novel. This approach made me feel immersed
in the characters' worlds and minds. Karl, an 18-year-old British
plumber, stops by the home of his girlfriend's favorite author.
The girlfriend, Fiorella, wants Karl to write to her about his
feelings and thoughts so they can get to know one another. Karl
is dyslexic and has difficulty writing, but then he is not terribly
verbose to begin with. He doesn't feel up to the task alone.
So he asks the author, who is the narrator for this story, for
help translating his thoughts into these letters. Over time,
the aging author and Karl develop a close friendship. They help
each other through difficult times. Karl's father passed away
6 years earlier, and the author's wife had died just a few years
ago. These losses fuel much of the emotion of the story. There
is such an honest, raw presentation of love, depression, death,
heartbreak, and self-discovery. Dying to Know You is
an emotional, character driven story both captivating and thought-provoking,
reeling the reader in and taking hold. Highly recommended and
best for older teens.
published April 2012
USA by Abrams Amulet Books.ISBN 978-1-4197-0165-8
UK by Bodley Head Random House. EAN
contents are ©Aidan Chambers unless otherwise stated.