Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers
When Karl’s girlfriend Fiorella asks him to write down his feelings about their relationship and answer a list of questions, he turns for help to a famous writer who lives in their town. Karl is dyslexic which makes writing very difficult for him, as was the author who suffered as a child from minor dyslexia. The author agrees to help Karl as much out of loneliness as a willingness to help. He is drawn to Karl, who is similar in many ways, bright and eager. He insists that Karl meet with him and give his own answers to the questions which the writer will in turn polish into something worthy of Fiorella’s attention. As the two spend time together, their relationship deepens slowly into a true friendship. When Fiorella finds out about the truth of the letters, it impacts the relationship not only of her and Karl but also of Karl and the author.
Chambers has created an amazing book here. I found it nearly impossible to summarize because so much of the book is the growing connection between the two male characters. It happens slowly and believably during fishing, quiet moments of driving, and conversation. It is a look at how we choose connections in our lives and how they impact the life we lead. While the book may be a quiet one, it also is daring in its own way, revealing the inner world of a young adult, written with truth and honesty.
The two men both face previous losses that have colored the way they face the world. Karl lost his beloved father at a young age, and still struggles with his connection to his father and with disconnecting from that loss. The author has recently lost his wife. The two of them both struggled with depression and grief, sinking lower into a dangerous place with thoughts of suicide.
Chambers also weaves in the role of art in our lives, the power of that to connect us to the world and the drive to create and be imaginative. With Karl, who is a plumber, this connection to art is not an obvious one. It takes time, just like their budding friendship, for the reader to come to understand Karl more deeply.
I wish I could easily capture this book in paragraphs, since I feel like I have danced around the edges and not captured its heart here. Let me say that this is a book that is powerful, quiet and filled with revelations about life. It is honest, beautifully written and deep. It is a book where you miss the characters for days after finishing it, because you too have befriended them. Appropriate for ages 16-18.
Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.