Book review

You Don't Know Me by David Klass (2001)

This is undoubtedly the best book of its kind that I have ever read. I found it paralysingly funny in places and devastating in its portrayal of isolation. There are scenes of violence.

John is an introspective, unassuming fourteen year old. He lives his 'life that is not a life' with his mother and 'the man who is not my father'. To enter John's world you have to understand that things are not what they seem.

Let's be real, the man who is not my father isn't a very nice man. Not just because he is not my father but because he hits me when you're not around, and he says if I tell you about it he'll really take care of me.

It's a situation that can only deteriorate. You can hear all about it from John, blow by blow:

The second slap catches me on top of my ear and is so hard it would knock me off my feet if he weren't holding me tightly. There are tears in my eyes, and I am suddenly looking back at the man who is not my father through a kaleidoscope, so that his image keeps breaking apart and re-forming.

Now, if something like that is happening to you at home, it is difficult to carry on living a normal life at school, but John has a go. He drifts his way through maths:

Of course, I do not understand the slightest syllable of algebra gibberish that Mrs Moonface is uttering, but she cannot tell that from my appearance.

and band practice:

The reason I am in your band room, holding on to a giant frog that is pretending to be a tuba, is because the process of elimination has brought me here. There is nothing I am better at than not being able to play this tuba that is not a tuba.

He also tries to hang on to his friends, and make dates, and go to basketball games, but there is an inescapable truth to his constant refrain:

You don't know me. You don't know me at all.

We have the same problem, we don't know him either. It is only very gradually that we begin to discover what a hero he is ...

This is one of those books that will stay with you for a very long time after you have finished reading it. It goes straight into my list of Ten Best Books Ever. Highly recommended.

What can I read next?

David Klass has written other books. You could look at this one:

  • Danger Zone

I don't think I've come across any author who combines humour and brutality to such devastating effect, but if the introspective 'stream of consciousness' appeals to you, you might like to look at this book by Malachy Doyle:

Or this series by Virginia Euwer Wolff:

Or this emotional book by Gaye Hicyilmaz:

On a slightly lighter note, you might enjoy this one by Jan Mark:

Or you might consider this classic by Melvin Burgess:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

You Don't Know Me features in these lists: