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Dying to Know You

by Aidan Chambers


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Dying to Know You

by Aidan Chambers

Review posted December 29, 2012.
Abrams, New York, 2012. 275 pages.
Starred Review

In Dying to Know You, Aidan Chambers writes a young adult novel from the perspective of a 75-year-old writer with writer's block, and accomplishes the surprising feat of pulling it off.

I had meant to return this book along with several others that I just wasn't getting around to reading. But when I looked inside to get a grasp of what it was about, I was pulled in, took it back home, and couldn't stop reading until I finished.

The writer who tells the story is approached by Karl Williamson, a young man who doesn't read. His girlfriend Fiorella insists that Karl must write about himself if they are to continue their relationship. Now, Karl has dyslexia, and he doesn't want Fiorella to know it. So he approaches Fiorella's favorite writer, figuring that he can write something that will satisfy her.

Why, exactly, the writer agrees to help Karl is something we don't fully understand at first. But no, the novel is not all about how Fiorella is deceived and finds out much later what's going on. No, Fiorella, finds out fairly early on and isn't happy about it. Along the way, the writer comes to care about Karl and his mother. They form a friendship that provides insights into both of them and their vocations.

In fact, this book is about much more than one boy and his relationship with a girl. There's a lot here -- vocation, love, friendship, adversity, expressing feelings, and art.

Here's a small taste, not about a major point, just a little thought along the way:

It seems to me there are two kinds of people. There are those who prefer everything to be spelt out, clear and direct, nothing left to doubt. The others are people who prefer to read between the lines, who don't want every i to be dotted, every t to be crossed. They need room to decide for themsleves what you mean.

I have to confess that by nature I belong to the spellers-out. But I was learning that Karl belonged to the understaters, the ambiguists.

Sometimes the spellers-out need to restrain themselves, and sometimes the understaters need to be given a hint, a clue to help them.

This book is a good story in the spelled-out sense with a whole lot under the surface to please any ambiguist.