Dying to Know You

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Dying to Know You Book Poster Image
Compelling friendship carries tale of author and teen boy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Could draw some readers to explore the art of William Tucker, which inspires Karl to try to make sculptures. Readers who like this book may want to read some of Chambers' other books, like Printz winner Postcards from No Man's Land.

Positive Messages

Karl and the author form an unlikely but strong friendship. The author is able to mentor Karl when he decides to pursue art, helping him realize that he must "go on making...You can't let the philistines destroy you."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The old author really tries to understand Karl and is supportive of him without telling him what to do or excusing his poor behavior. Even though the author is suffering through his own pain -- the death of his wife, the loss of his will to write, his own serious health problems -- he reaches out to help someone else.


Karl gets thrown out of a bar after fighting with someone who insulted him. Later he has an altercation with the same man and his friends; his leg is broken, and the old man suffers a concussion. Karl runs off to commit suicide after Fiorella breaks up with him.


Karl and Fiorella have sex, which they discuss with the author separately. Fiorella breaks up with Karl after a sexual encounter that made her "so scared I had to get away." Later, Karl admits he "tried to make her" let him get her pregnant. Karl's mother wonders about the nature of his friendship with the older man.


Some use of words like "Lord" or "frigging."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some beer and wine drinking, including at a pub, but Karl is 18 and allowed to drink in England, where the book is set.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dying to Know You has some mature moments: For example, central character Karl admits that his girlfriend, Fiorella, broke up with him after he tried to "make her" get pregnant. After the break-up, he considers suicide. There's also a beating that leaves both Karl and an older man in the hospital. But in the end, this is a moving story about an unlikely friendship and finding new possibilities within yourself. The author truly cares for troubled Karl and is able to mentor the teen when he decides to pursue art, helping him realize that he must "go on making... You can't let the philistines destroy you."

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What's the story?

In DYING TO KNOW YOU, a teen named Karl visits an elderly author and asks him for a favor: Karl's girlfriend, the literary Fiorella, wants Karl to answer a long list of personal questions, but Karl is hesitant because his dyslexia makes it hard for him to write down what he wants to. Fiorella is a fan of the author's work, and Karl wants his help keeping the romance alive. The author agrees, and, while working on the project, gets to know the broken boy. An unlikely friendship between the boy and the author gives both of them a reason to keep living.

Is it any good?

The plot does ramble some: What starts off as a Cyrano de Bergerac-type story soon spins to being a tale about depression and a potential suicide. Then the focus changes again to being about Karl's discovery of his artistic drive and the author's insistence that Karl must "go on making" even after his first sculpture is destroyed.

Readers looking for a romanctic read might be disappointed -- the female characters, including Fiorella, are all thinly drawn -- but those willing to ramble along with the story will find a compelling and unusual friendship at the heart of this novel by Printz Award-winning author Aidan Chambers. Karl and the author are on opposite ends of the age spectrum, but their friendship provides each with both love and inspiration.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Dying to Know You's more mature content. It deals fairly explicitly with sex; there's also a beating and a near suicide attempt. Is there a limit to what sort of material should be in young adult books, or are teens ready for these kinds of serious issues? Who should decide what you're ready to read?

  • Talk about the unusual narrator here: an elderly man. Can you think of other media titles targeted at young people that have elderly narrators? Why did the author pick the famous old writer to narrate this story? Why does he go nameless throughout the book?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

Themes & Topics

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