You Don't Know Me

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
You Don't Know Me Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Teen uses humor and fantasy to cope with abuse.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 33 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Parents may want to use this book to talk about abuse and how kids can help friends in similar situations. Families who wish to delve into the plot with their kids can ask: How could he have gotten out of his dilemma? How do his problems affect his view of the world?

Positive Messages

This tale focuses on the realistic, and sometimes hard to stomach, issue of physical abuse. Check out our Families Can Talk About section for some ideas for delving in to this tough topic.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Like teen protagonists before him, all the way back to Holden
Caulfield, John notices above all the falseness and hypocrisy around
him, but his descriptions of each moment, ruthlessly parsed, are
uniquely creative, at times almost surrealistic. It is easy to feel sorry for him as he deals with everyday problems, and larger ones like his abusive would-be stepfather.


John suffers increasingly severe abuse at the hands of his mother's boyfriend, beginning with smacks, escalating to a beating with a belt, ending with a beating severe enough to require a hospital stay and reconstructive surgery. A gun, a riot at a basketball game. John briefly considers suicide.


A couple of make-out scenes, not graphic. An oblique reference to masturbation


Some moderate swearing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

John's mother's boyfriend gets drunk on whiskey, the punch at a high-school dance is spiked.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the protagonist deals with serious abuse at the hands of his mother's live-in boyfriend. Fourteen-year-old John is an easy character to feel sorry for and root for as he deals with everyday problems, and larger ones, like the abuse. Alienated and angry, John briefly considers suicide. Some profanity and sexual references as well.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjalenamc November 7, 2014


Adult Written byallyb2011 January 26, 2011

Its Real

I had to read it for summer reading in my high school. I think it is somewhat beneficial because it makes you realize that people aren't always what they s... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byhollylujah December 27, 2010

Um, Great.

This is the best book I have ever read(and i've read A LOT). It is stylistically so different from other books and almost impossible to put down!
Teen, 14 years old Written byLoverofLiterature November 14, 2010

It's a sureal psychological novel.

Personally I loved this book. I read it in 6th grade and it really allowed me to delve into the character's mind. People believe that it should be for 13+... Continue reading

What's the story?

John, 14, describes his life, filled with the usual teen miseries: he has a crush on a manipulative, selfish girl, he doesn't understand algebra, he has no good friends, and he is alienated both at school and at home. But he also has a more serious problem: his mother's live-in boyfriend, referred to only as "the man who is not my father," beats him regularly, and may be involved in criminal activities. In the course of this book, John has a more disastrous than usual date with the girl of his dreams, his "friend who is not a friend" is arrested for shoplifting, and he is given a tuba solo in the school band. But then his mother has to leave town to deal with a dying relative, and John is left alone with her abusive boyfriend.

Is it any good?

This is a stunning combination of brilliantly sardonic teen observation, lyrical writing, and anger. Like teen protagonists before him, all the way back to Holden Caulfield, John notices above all the falseness and hypocrisy around him, but his descriptions of each moment, ruthlessly parsed, are uniquely creative, at times almost surrealistic.

Some of the scenes are laugh-out-loud funny, so the denouement comes as even more of a shock. John's problems may get a bit melodramatic at the end, but by then the reader is so immersed in his character that it is moving nonetheless. Sharply observed, and with a powerful voice, this is David Klass' best novel yet.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the heavy theme of this book. Is it important for kids -- even those who have never had to deal with an abusive home life -- to read John's story? Why or why not?

  • How do you think the author handled the descriptions of violence? Were they appropriate for the story? This book is targeted to 12 and up -- does it seem appropriate for this age group?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love memorable characters

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