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Dying to Know You Summary
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers.
Dying to Know You is a 2012 work of young adult fiction by Aidan Chambers. The narrator is a seventy-five-year-old man, which is unusual for a young adult novel. Chambers uses this subversion of genre tropes to explore a more mature point of view while dealing with issues relevant to a younger audience.
The story begins with dialogue between two unidentified people: The first person wishes to speak with the second, who is reluctant. We learn this is an exchange between Karl Williamson, an eighteen-year-old apprentice plumber, and the unnamed narrator, who is seventy-five and an author. Karl’s girlfriend, Fiorella, has ordered him to answer a list of questions with written letters. Fiorella is bookish and prizes good writing, and is a fan of the author’s work. Karl looked him up on the internet to ask him for help in composing his responses.
Karl reveals he hates writing and is dyslexic. He has not told Fiorella this, and he worries that she will leave him if his letters are not written well. The author is charmed and agrees to help, but insists that he must interview Karl thoroughly in order to compose letters that are authentic representations of him. After Karl leaves, the author locates a fan email Fiorella had sent him the year before. He composes a quick draft of an initial response from Karl.
When Karl returns the next morning, the author shows him the letter. Karl complains that it doesn’t sound like him. They chat and it slowly turns into an interview about how Karl and Fiorella met, which involved a game of chess and Karl’s rugby playing. The author composes a letter in response to one of Fiorella’s questions and they discuss it. The author then asks Karl to accompany him on a fishing expedition. Karl agrees.
On the drive, Karl asks the author about his wife, but the author changes the subject. The author also notes his physical complaints due to old age, including a bad back and the need to urinate frequently; these complaints are repeated several times and are presented as physical symptoms of grief. Karl says he showed Fiorella the first letter and she has decided the subject of the second will be “love.” He reveals he’s tried to write a few lines about the subject, and the author is delighted.
The author offers to clean up Karl’s love letter, and he senses that Karl has experienced an emotional loss having to do with his father. Karl reveals that his father died six years earlier, when he was twelve, and that the fishing spot he chose was where he and his father would often go, and that the day is the sixth anniversary of his father’s death. In turn, the author reveals that his wife is dead and he hasn’t been able to write since. Karl tells the author that plumbing is just how he makes his living; he aspires to be a sculptor.
Fiorella learns that Karl has been getting help with his letters; she’s upset because this goes against the spirit of her challenge to Karl, which was meant to encourage him to be more honest and open with her. Fiorella is a selfish and self-centered girl who considers herself intellectual and artistic because she writes poetry and reads books. She is not supportive of Karl’s sculpture and rejects his inspiration in favor of her own interpretation.
The author and Karl continue to meet, often sharing a meal at the local pub. Four local youths sometimes harass them; Karl has a violent encounter with them one evening in defense of the author, who suffers a concussion and is hospitalized as a result. He tells Karl he cannot see him anymore, and Karl makes a confession: As his feelings of confusion and grief overwhelmed him, he wanted to start a family with Fiorella, and attempted to impregnate her by forcing himself on her. She breaks up with him after the assault, and Karl is ruined by guilt and shame. He attempts suicide but is saved at the last minute. The youths from the pub destroy Karl’s sculpture simply because they can; they revel in their ability to violently abuse people.
The author and Karl reconnect, and Karl begins to recover and open up about his destructive feelings. The author believes Karl will be OK and has come to regard him as a surrogate son. After Karl leaves, the author goes into his workshop for the first time since his wife’s death. He sits down, picks up his pencil, and begins to write what turns out to be this book. It’s the first thing he’s worked on since his wife’s death, as his interactions with Karl have not only helped the young man but also brought the author back to himself.