The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner
Aaron has just gotten a job at a funeral home with a man who is happy to give him all sorts of opportunities like a new suit, help with getting a driver’s license, and even invites him to eat meals with his family. But Aaron has too much to hide to trust his new boss. Mam is slipping deeper and deeper into dementia, often forgetting who Aaron is. The two of them live together in a camper where their neighbors are violent. Aaron also has a recurring nightmare that happens every time he falls asleep, so he tries not to sleep. When he inevitably does, he sleepwalks. As Aaron finds stability in his job with death, his tenuous control of his life starts to fall apart. The question is when Aaron will be able to face the truth of his past and whether it will be before it destroys him entirely.
Brilliant. This winner of the 2012 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers is an amazing read. Gardner creates a tense mystery yes, one that keeps the pages turning. At the same time though, the book is immensely poignant as a young man learns to trust others, figures out that sometimes people just do good for others for no other reason, and starts to trust himself too. It is a story of a person realizing that they are good at something, seeing a future where there was none, and finally being able to see their past clearly, dealing with the things they buried long ago.
Aaron is an incredible hero at least in part because he is so very human. From his lack of speech to the depth of his thoughts, he is trapped in his own head much of the time. As he works with the death around him, handling dead bodies, attending funerals, and putting together caskets, he finds that the dead are not the problem. It is the emotions of the living that are too difficult for him to handle, and that includes his own. The secondary characters are equally well drawn, with no one as a caricature, even the police officers.
A beautiful book, one that is tragic and hopeful all at once, that combines death and life into one amazing read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.