Karl has a girlfriend. Fiorella wants him to prove how much he likes her by writing answers to a set of questions she poses for him. The trouble is, Karl is dyslexic. He is also rather unsure of himself, after year of failure at school, and is certainly uncomfortable writing down his feelings.
His solution to the problem is to enlist the help of one of Fiorella’s favourite authors.
The (unnamed) author is decidedly reluctant at the start. After all, he is getting on in years, seventy-something, so why should he bother? However, for some reason, Karl gets under his skin, and he decides to help him compose the replies.
Along the way, the pair discover a little more about each other – though both have personal issues they hide. Unfortunately, they can’t hide the fact that it is not Karl who is writing the answers to Fiorella’s questions, even though the author does his best to interpret what Karl means to say.
Aidan Chambers is seventy-something himself. It is often said that you should write about what you know. Aidan Chambers does. Since the book is written from the (seventy-something) author’s perspective, you get a different view of young people, and it is hopeful and sympathetic.
There isn’t the usual criticism of Gen Y and their failings, or disrespect of the older generation. It is a sensitive story dealing with a young man’s attempt to find love and purpose in his life, while unintentionally connecting and impacting a much older generation.
Early in the story, Karl is the one keen to maintain the connection. As it continues, it is the author who begins to feel the need to stay in touch with the teenager – for his sake as much as Karl’s. The unexpected friendship develops naturally through the ups and downs of their emotional lives.
Several key events arise – some of which have had people questioning whether the issues dealt with in DTKY are suitable for teen readers. An answer to this is provided by Patrick Ness in a review in the Guardian:
So is this a book for teenagers? Why on earth not? It features two fully realised, complicated teenagers at its centre, viewed with a clear-eyed compassion by an observer who could have tipped towards the alien but remains fully human. It is perfect for that cloudy expanse between older teenager and younger adult, a novel that doesn’t pretend to advise, but merely sees its characters for who they really are. No one appreciates that more than a teenager does. Source: Patrick Ness, Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers – review – an unexpected and unusual friendship, the Guardian,
Do you think Chambers portrays the complexities of teenage life decisions realistically? Is it effective to have a seventy-something year old telling the tale? Have you ever had a special friendship develop from surprising circumstances? Is that something we all need?
Aidan Chambers shares a lot on his website. And here are a few thoughts from him when asked ‘who would you like to read your books?’:
I’m not interested in readers who read quickly just to pass the time. I’m not in the entertainment industry. Of course, I want my books to be enjoyed, to give pleasure. But that’s a different matter. I get pleasure from working hard, when it’s work I want to do. As a reader, I enjoy reading books that make me think and that are so rich and generous that I have to reread them to get all I can from them. So I suppose I want to write books of that kind and want to be read by people who read the way I do. Source: Aidan Chambers, Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.aidanchambers.co.uk/faqs.htm
Will ‘Dying to Know You’ be a book that you will reread?