Saturday, 18 August 2012

review: The Dead I Know

by Scot Gardner
Razorbill, August 1 2012
psychological young adult
received via publisher for blog tour (thank you!)

Aaron Rowe's new job with a funeral director fits him like a glove. Dealing with death and the dead isn't nearly as difficult as dealing with his daily caravan-park life with Mam, who keeps drawing further into her own world, and the more-than-rowdy neighbours from van 57. But then, as if he hasn't enough on his plate, the sleepwalking starts, and it won't let up... not until Aaron finally confronts the past hidden in his nightmares and fragments of memories.
The cover:

At first glance, I wasn't a big fan of the overlapping, gradiented text, especially since it looks much darker with the background image in real life. But it's grown on me, what with the neat ninety degree-ness of the hole, placement of the author and the casket shape in geometric contrast. Subtle earthy colour scheme, as well.

The book:

I went into this one almost blind. Truly, the only image I had in my mind of The Dead I Know was that it would be dark and, according to the blurb by John Marsden (whose Tomorrow, When The War Began I couldn't get into but came highly commended anyway), would make me feel "triumphantly alive". Okay, enough with the me-talk and on with the review.

Aaron's character is ambiguous to begin with, which starts his character growth on exactly the right note. He's described as tall, dark and handsome, but clearly doesn't speak much. It's this mixture of shyness and taciturnity that works perfectly in endearing him to us as he's knocked for a loop by Skye, the inquisitive ten-year-old daughter of the funeral director, John Barton. Skye plays an instrumental role in opening Aaron up to the reader and making him likeable, and boy is he likeable by the end. One gets the sense that he's truly become tall, dark and handsome. At least, this reader does. (Tehe.)

Mr. Barton is another character who offers a little doubt at the beginning, another character who develops in a subtle, authentic way. Though the mention of his absent son at the end is brief and somewhat random, the exchange following it between him and his wife more than makes up for it, as he reveals a little more of his personality:
      John Barton was on his second beer -- his limit, he said, because he's always on call -- and made a confession.
      "Remember that song, by Queen? 'Another One Bites the Dust'?"
      "Of course," I said.
      "Sometimes, when the phone rings and they tell me the sad news, I hear that song in my head. Bamp bamp bamp bamp, another bites the dust."
      "John Kevin Barton!" his wife scolded. "You are a disgrace! Don't tell the boy that!"
      "Bamp bamp bamp bamp... ouch!"
      Mrs. Barton slapped him. It would've seemed violent if you couldn't see her smile.
      I guess we deal with it the best way we can. (p. 205)
The plot is a little more wobbly. The funeral director's job is well-detailed, as are Aaron's trials and tribulations with it. However, the nightmare and sleepwalking serve to amp up the tension, rather than really move forward the story from A to B, especially as we only realize the dreams are related to Aaron at about the book's halfway point. Thanks to the book's length, though, the swaying-steady pace isn't quite an issue. The final resolving of the conflict is abrupt, giving Aaron practically no page-time to show his recovery/acceptance/etc., but with such a well-written ending, it's difficult to complain.

Rating: 3.9 out of 5