Monday, June 25, 2012

You Don't Know Me by David Klass

John lives a life of survival. People look at him and see a quiet kid who goes through the motions, but no one really knows him. No one knows that he longs for a father who abandoned his family, he lives with “the man who is not my father” who beats him regularly, and he loves Glory Hallelujah who seems perfect in every way. The only one who sees through the façade is John’s band director, Mr. Steenwilly, who encourages him to seek help when he notices bruises. Even though John knows what “the man who is not my father” will do if he ever tells, he finds strength in Mr. Steenwilly’s belief in him. Knowing that someone cares gives John the courage to fight back when “the man who is not my father” takes it too far and threatens to kill him.

Klass writes a very realistic portrayal of abuse and the secrets that victims carry with them out of very real fear. Told from the first person POV, and almost with a Faulknerian style, the reader gets to see events, people, and John – himself – through an unfiltered lens. Also, the author refused to describe the main character so that it could be anyone. We make a lot of assumptions; however, we rarely know what’s really going on in people’s lives simply by looking at them - hence, the recurring theme of “you don’t know me.”

Although some people may find the stream of consciousness distracting, I felt as though it added authenticity to John’s voice by contrasting the John that people saw on the outside with the real John that lived inside of his head. Another aspect that added authenticity to this novel was that no one was perfect, and each person had their own version of reality.

The benefit of this novel is that it provides a window into young adults suffering from abusive homes. The goal isn’t to demonize the mother for not knowing, victimize John for suffering, or immortalize the teacher who tried to help. The goal of the novel, to me, was to show what the many facets represents. Kids don’t always act out when they’re in pain. Sometimes, they simply fade into he background. In fact, there’s a scene in the novel where Klass depicts an algebra class where students are so insecure about being called on that they purposefully wear clothing to blend in with posters on the wall. That’s what abuse victims do throughout life. If they become invisible, then the hope is that the abuser won’t be able to land that hit, and no one will be able to see the permanent bruises left behind.

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