Happy February, friends! Today we are diving into another BOOK REPORT, a feature that we share every month. We both read the same book, chat about it, and post it here. With minor spoilers, we introduce Aidan Chambers’ upcoming release, Dying to Know You.
Future Release Date: April 1, 2012
Publisher: Amulet Books
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Paperback from ALA for Magan, E-Galley received via NetGalley for Estelle
How we found out about it: From the publishers, via NetGalley and ALA Mid-Winter
Summary: When’s Karl girlfriend gives him a list of questions she wants his written and heartfelt answers to, he decides to enlist the help of her favorite author, a 70-year old man who has recently lost his wife and drive to write.
Quick! In three words, describe this book.
Estelle: Straight forward. (Is that cheating?) Measured. Artsy.
Magan: Dense. Slow. Seasoned.
What are your thoughts on the narrator?
Estelle: I liked him. He was a writer, and clearly had a lot of knowledge being that he had lived 70 years — a lot more compared the other characters in the book. He was never pompous, was always thoughtful, and I think he was a better man than he would ever admit. As a narrator in a young adult book though, I wonder how my perception of the book would have changed if Karl, the 18-year old, was the one telling the story instead. Sometimes with the author telling the story, the sense of discovery wasn’t there for me.
Magan: I enjoyed that he was a man in his seventies, but at times felt disconnected from him because I haven’t gone through similar life experiences (yet). I suppose, ultimately, a takeaway is that no matter what age we are, we can still connect with another much-different-in-age person. Karl and the narrator learned things from one another, though I especially loved that the narrator spoke a lot of truth and wisdom. And, even for an older man, he was very open about a lot of topics (i.e. sex, relationships).
Did you like the style of this story?
Estelle: I’m wondering if I am reading into the story too much. Because it was just so straight forward at times (reference to question #1), there weren’t too many surprises. The level of excitement was at one level, along with all the other more serious events that occurred. It was all on the same plane. It’s harder for me to feel invested in the lives of characters when the story is just told to me, and not shown to me. I felt like I was an outsider during most of the book. That being said each detail felt very deliberate and it was also very clear. Nothing was confusing.
Magan: Judging by the first few pages, I thought I would like it quite a lot. It seemed fast paced and filled with tons of dialogue (which I love), but there were many down times in the story where very little was happening. I think the pacing and timing were very true to life, but I didn’t love learning about Karl (the character I felt most invested in) from the narrator’s point of view. I thought the love letters to Karl’s girlfriend were going to play a much larger part of the story, but in reality, they didn’t. Bigger issues were confronted and the story was much heavier than I anticipated.
What were the strengths and weaknesses of this book?
Estelle: The weakness was the connection I did not feel with the characters. The strength was the relationship that formed between the author and Karl.
Magan: Strength: the development of the friendship between two unlikely men. Weakness: that I never felt hooked or invested in the story, despite the really big things that were happening.
What did this book say about art?
Estelle: I think this book had a lot to say about expression. In the beginning, Karl’s girlfriend wants him to write out long, involved answers to these questions she has made up to get to know him better and understand his love for her. He has trouble with this, and seeks out the help of the author, a person who is good at expressing himself in words. As the story goes on, Karl discovers what he is good at and what strength and effort it takes to actually do what you are good at. Even when people are trying to destroy that for you, and even when you lose confidence in yourself. (The author was also sort of in the same boat. He lost his inspiration and his drive to write.) Art means different things to different people, and you just never know when you are going to feel that spark. I think it’s also difficult to get to this place in life where you don’t care that others may not “get it”.
Magan: I feel like Chambers’ is saying that there is a way for each of us to express ourselves. For the narrator, it was with words. He was an author. For Karl, it became physical art. Karl found it difficult to talk about things he wasn’t passionate about. His insecurities took over. When he found his art, the words began to flow easily. I think this was an incredibly beautiful part of the story – finding what we’re passionate about, what makes us tick, and ultimately what makes us unique.
There was a lot of wisdom in Dying to Know You. Any particular quote-ables that stood out to you?
Estelle: “I think there is no better way to get to know someone than reading what they write.” and “For one thing, the dickheads never manage to smash everything. And for another thing, if you, and the people like you, the true artists, keep on making, the philistines can’t smash up everything. There may be fewer of you. Of us. But we win in the end.”
Magan: There were a lot of moments that stood out to me because they were full of life lessons. One of my favorites was, “I’m not a games player. To my mind, there are enough chances to fail in life without inventing more.”
Any final thoughts?
Estelle: I think this book had many intriguing ideas. It brought up many ailments (dyslexia, depression) that haven’t been represented in any of the other books I’ve been reading, and I appreciated that. It wasn’t a book that was full of action… most of the time it felt like it was a long explanation of two very different beings and how their lives affected one another. I tend to enjoy books where I am more invested in the characters and I felt it missed it mark there. I was interested but not enamored with them. Most of the time that’s make it or break it for me. Still, I hung on and finished the book and more than anything took away some greater understanding of expression and unlikely relationships.
Magan: I wanted to love everything about this book, but in the end it wasn’t that kind of book for me. I’m still conflicted over this being classified as a young adult novel. While the content wasn’t explicitly mature, I’m not sure how 12-18 year olds will connect with the story being that the narrator is in his seventies. I don’t feel like we saw enough of Karl’s point of view to understand all his actions and decisions. Like Estelle, I did enjoy seeing how these two characters connected. They needed one another – both needed someone to alleviate the loss they felt over losing people very dear to them. I felt like a subtle point was made that we aren’t meant to live a lonely life; we need people to help us make it through.