Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Review: The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner

by Scott Gardner
Release Date: August 7, 2012
2012 Razorbill Canada (Originally published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in 2011)
Soft-Cover Edition; 208 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-14-318212-2
ASIN: B0082477KC
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult
Source: Review Copy from Publisher

4 / 5 Stars

** Winner - Older Readers Book of the Year 2012 - Children's Book Council of Australia **

When Aaron gets a job at a funeral home, he surprisingly takes to it. But there are dark secrets hidden in Aaron’s subconscious. He experiences dangerous bouts of sleepwalking and recurring dreams he can’t explain: a lifeless hand, a lipsticked mouth, a man,
a gun... Can he piece the clues together and figure out the truth of his past?

My Thoughts
The Dead I Know is one of those easy-to-read books where the chapters are short and the story seems deceptively simple and then you suddenly realize there is nothing simple or easy about what you are reading.  I was drawn into this world of death where life is grim and gritty, and into a mystery that unfolded slowly and carefully, almost like peeling away the layers of an onion.  
The image of the onion stayed with me throughout the novel as I couldn't come up with an alternate analogy that seemed to fit so well.  When we are first introduced to Aaron, he is about to be apprenticed at a funeral home and his appearance is that of one who has taken care to hide himself from the world.  He is taken to a barber shop to get a haircut and a shave and it is the first instance where this taciturn young man begins to open up and speak as he falls under his boss's allure.  And although I knew very little about Aaron and there was something mysterious about him, I couldn't help but like him right from the beginning. To be honest, I really had no idea what was going on during the first third of the novel.  But little things, like how Aaron took care of his sick mother and was meticulous about cleaning up after himself and how he responded to his boss's daughter made me like him even more.  There was something endearing and caring about Aaron.

That being said, there was also something really eerie that surrounded Aaron from the moment he was introduced and it definitely gave me the chills throughout the novel.  Aaron had these horrible nightmares which caused him to sleepwalk and as the novel progressed, you began to get a glimpse of what was going on but were helpless to stop it.  You get drawn into Aaron's world as it falls apart and as he learns more about what is going on and the onion peels apart.  The background of Aaron working at a funeral home is sometimes cathartic for Aaron, as weird as that sounds, but at the same time, it is also one of the reasons as to why Aaron finally fell apart and had to face the reality of his past.  I found the whole setting to be rather fascinating.  You know, dealing with the dead helps you face the living and the real world.  A real juxtaposition.  

The writing is rather simple and the chapters are short which helps with the pace of the novel, and I read the whole thing in a couple of hours.  Although there wasn't a lot of detail, I think the lack of detail was almost more chilling as it left a lot to your imagination.  If you've read the book, just think about the motorcycle accident scene and I'm sure you understand. There was also a sense of detachment in the beginning as if we were seeing things through the eyes of how Aaron saw the world, which became less detached as the novel continued.  Interesting writing technique that has a way of drawing you in. 

The Dead I Know was a deceptively simple read that was anything by simple.  Character-driven and told from the viewpoint of a teenage boy who life is falling apart around him, it's a raw and grim look at a young man who had the courage to grasp at the straws that were given to him and to face a past he had locked away.  Some readers may find the scenes gruesome or bothersome as it does take place in a funeral home and includes many of the details you would expect to read in such a setting, but I found the style of writing to be somewhat detached so it didn't bother me too much.  

Author Biography
Scot Gardner has written several critically acclaimed novels for young adults. His debut novel, One Dead Seagull, was followed by White Ute Dreaming, a powerful story of first love, mates, and a yellow dog. His third novel, Burning Eddy, was shortlisted for the CBC Award and the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adults. Gravity was also shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2007. The Dead I Know was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia in 2011; it is the first Scot Gardner novel to be published in Canada.