Dying to know you by Aidan Chambers
Bodley Head, 2012. ISBN 978037033236.
(Age 15+) Highly recommended. Karl is hopelessly in love but his girlfriend, Firella, wants proof of his affections. Firella loves to write and she thinks that Karl should write down what he thinks about love. Karl is dyslexic and reluctant to tell her that in case she thinks he is stupid, asks an elderly writer to help him. A friendship springs up between Karl and the author. They go fishing and find common ground and understanding as they get to know each other.
Narrated by the 75-year-old writer, the reader is taken into the world of an elderly man and into the uncertainties of an 18-year-old young man. Chambers does a fine job of making the friendship of these two completely different characters believable. I became engrossed in both stories. As the narrator begins to know Karl, so does the reader, sympathising with his disability and rejoicing in his skills and strengths and his quiet but practical introverted personality. The asides about the ills of approaching old age are also handled beautifully. Both characters learn about life, the depths of depression and dealing with death from each other.
Chambers gives the reader much to think about with this book. He writes poignantly about big themes. The nature of love and relationships is explored, both from the young man's perspective and from the elderly man's view. The art of writing is exposed, and the astute reader will learn much about being an author as the narrator takes what Karl says and puts it into written language. And the belief that art is something that an artist has to do to stay alive is one to ponder.
There are some lovely images that stay in the mind long after the book is finished. A marriage stone, thousands of years old, is a symbol of a lasting love and yet as an art object, still gives pleasure today. Karl's careful choice of rocks that sing to him make his cairn in remembrance of his father something special.
This is a book to put in the hands of intelligent readers who will be challenged to think about big issues and will come away changed from the experience.