In Dying to Know You, award-winning author Aidan Chambers has created an indelible portrait of a young man discovering his own voice in the world, and has constructed a love story that is as much about the mind as it is the heart. In this contemporary love story, a teenage boy named Karl enlists a famous writer to help him impress his girlfriend, Fiorella. She has asked him to write her a letter in which he reveals his true self. But Karl enlists her favorite author and begs him to take up the task. The writer reluctantly assents, on the condition that Karl agree to a series of interviews, so that the letter will be based on an authentic portrait of Karl. The letter, though effective, has unexpected consequences for Karl, Fiorella, and the writer.
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I will confess: I’m not really sure how to be concise with my observations of Dying to Know You. It is just one of “those kinds” of books.
Geared towards Young Adults, but narrated by an unnamed man in his seventies, Dying to Know you is certainly an interesting read to say the least. Much of the book is dialogue-driven, and this is especially so with the first few pages. It was actually a bit refreshing, because I find that it’s so easy to fall into a rut -as a writer and a reader- and it’s always good to step out of your comfort zone when doing both. However, I’d rather be shown a story and not told a story, and I feel the story suffered because of its differences in format and narration.
From the start, I did find myself a bit disconnected from the story as a whole due to the age of the narrator. I wish I could have heard more from Karl’s perspective, maybe in a split-narrative, because he had so much going on. I think the lack of a young voice in this book will deter some younger readers. What I did like about the narrator was how he related with Karl and how he shared his life experiences without judgment or appearing to be condescending. Every teenager and young adult needs someone like that in their lives.
The relatively touchy subjects of dyslexia, the loss of a loved one, and depression are approached with the delicacy and respect they deserve. Though they are very different, because the narrator and Karl have suffered similar life-changing events, they are also very much the same. The author finds healing of his own while helping Karl deal with his feelings towards Fiorella, his perception of himself and his abilities, and the loss of a loved one. It was this aspect of the book, the relationship that develops between the two main characters, that I liked best.
I think my biggest disappointment was my inability to connect with any of the characters. I certainly emphathized and sympathized with them at times, but I did not feel invested in them. Fiorella, Karl’s girlfriend, was a bit pretentious, though I suppose many of us are at sixteen and seventeen. There was one character I really liked -Becky- but I didn’t meet her until the last 20 or so pages, and by then, the book was basically over. I was a bit underwhelmed.
Both the art of writing and the art of sculpture are a big part of this book, and I love the way these subjects approached. I am a big advocate of healthy self-expression, and was happy to see that encouraged throughout the story.
While I was not blown away by this book, I do think that it had many good attributes. Dying to Know You can be described as an enlightening read, with an emphasis on the necessity of friendship, the passion behind art and self-expression, and the power of love. I have certainly come away with a greater appreciation for these aspects of life, and hope you will, too.