42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
The phrase "I laughed, I cried" has been so overdone in popular culture that attaching it to a book review is almost pointless these days. I mean, it's an incredibly overused sentence. People who've sat down and watched half an hour of "The Jerry Springer Show" are as likely to say it as people who've read "Les Miserables" cover to cover. I wanted to begin this review of David Klass's fabulous, "You Don't Know Me" by saying it. I'm a fairly hard-core book reviewer and I don't laugh OR cry at books easily. Heck, I can read a Lurlene McDaniels book without cracking so much as a sniffle (not a particularly difficult thing to do, but you get the picture). But "You Don't Know Me" is so well written, so funny and sad all at the same time, that it was literally impossible not to laugh AND cry at it all at once. This is the highest praise I can think to give this book. I state for the record that this is perhaps one of the greatest young adult novels written in the last ten years. So sayeth me.
You don't know John. You know absolutely nothing about him. You don't know what he looks like or how he feels or where he lives or what his life is like. Soon enough, however, you begin to learn more and more about him. As it happens, this book takes place from John's mind, a fascinating world of wry sarcasm, dead-pan humor, and ridiculous situations. John negates his existence by telling you frankly that his home is not a home because of the man who is not his father. His mother's boyfriend is a violent horrible person that beats John whenever he gets a chance, but does it in such a way that it leaves no visible marks on the fourteen-year-old boy. At school, John hardly fairs any better. He is desperately in love with a girl that he has nicknamed Gloria Hallelujah and he attempts in band to play a tuba that is not a tuba. It is, instead, a giant frog pretending to be a tuba. John has arrived at this conclusion due to the fact that his tuba does not play music, but rather, croaks. When John finally gets up the nerve to ask Gloria on a date, his world improves and destructs almost simultaneously. Within one week everything will change for John and the only question that remains is, will he survive it?
Using humor in a YA novel centered on abuse isn't a particularly new concept. The brilliant "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson uses it well. But there's a bitterness to "Speak" that taints it in some way. The sardonic voice of "You Don't Know Me" is saying humorous thinks because of the bleakness of his life, true. On the other hand, you really grow to love John. He's a fighter. He will not kill himself or run away from home when his problems become immense because he feels (perhaps rightly) that to do so would be a form of surrender. I was also impressed that Klass broke the old if-a-gun-appears-in-the-first-act-of-a-play-it'll-be-used-by-the-third-act rule. That takes guts and not a little sly writing.
But again, it's because the book's so funny that it flows effortlessly from scene to scene. When John passes a note to the girl he loves more than anything else on the planet, he is certain that whatever reaction she has to it will give him some indication of her feelings. So when she eats it immediately, he is understandably baffled. It makes for some wonderful writing, especially where John asks his make-believe father what that means and gets a great response. Klass is adept at displaying John's mother's boyfriend in all his nasty glory as well. When it snows the man merely looks up to the sky and says "sky dandruff". This is a book that's as liable to tread into sweetness and light as it is into gloom and doom. And through it all you're rooting for John. You're really cheering for him. You want him to trust the right people and drop the wrong ones. You want him to stop living so much in his own head (even though it's a great place for us, the readers, to be). You want what's best for the book's hero, but most of all you just want him to be happy. And Klass delivers tenfold.
So I laughed. I cried. It was better than many a young adult novel I've read recently. Don't let the dreary cover and even drearier title fool you. "You Don't Know Me" is writing gold. It's the sarcastic sardonic answer to every after-school special ever produced. Maybe what I loved the most about it was that it was so grippingly honest. Some books don't have the guts to tell you the truth about their characters. Some books don't have the skill to tell you their story well. "You Don't Know Me" has guts, skill, and extraordinary talent within its pages. If you can choose only one teen novel to go with you on a desert island somewhere, pick Klass's masterpiece. Get to know it.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2002
This was probably the BEST book I have ever read. I liked the charactorization and the plot. It was very descriptive and I liked how the author ( David Klass ) described everything with so much detail. YOU DON'T KNOW ME is a book about a 14 year old boy named John who deals with everyday problems that average teenagers deal with. Most of the book is about him working up the curage to ask out "Glory Hallelujah", a girl that he has liked forever. Also, he has to deal with his mom's boyfriend whom he calls "the man who is not my father". While John's mother is not around, her boyfriend yell's at John and has verbal meltdowns. John also deals with algebra. John dreads this class the most. His teacher sometimes gives him a hard time about not liking algebra. In about the middle of the book, John actually works up the courage and asks out " Glory Hallelujah". After that, he has a whole new prespective of things. When he enters the algebra class room, he is actually smiling. This is a really good book and I suggest it to kids ages 12~15... it talks about struggles that teenagers have and its interesting to read if you are around that age.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2001
In David Klass's novel "You Don't Know Me," John, the main character, deals with all the things adolesence brings. He fights with his tuba, which isn't really a tuba at all, but a frog pretending to be a tuba, he has a crush on the beautiful, but dim Gloria (Glory Halleluia), and he masters the art of looking like he's paying attention in Mrs. Moonface's algebra class. However, John has troubles other than the normal teen-aged problems. He suffers constant physical abuse from his mother's boyfriend, "the man who is not his father." His mother doesn't know about the abuse, and John is afraid of what will happen to him if he tells his mother. What does happen to him left me breathless, crying, and laughing out loud. This is a fantastic book and a must-read.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2011
When I first read You Don't Know Me I was left pretty-much breathless. The second person narration surprised me, but the author's ability to affix me permanently to his protagonist, who couldn't be a more unreliable narrator, knocked my socks off. Since the book came out I've bought at least eight copies for my middle school classroom library. Each year I put it in one kid's hands, s/he consumes the book, hands it off to a friend, then that one hands it off to another, then someone asks whether it can be loaned to students who aren't in my class, then after a few months of bouncing all over school, it disappears. Every August I buy another, with full knowledge that it will disappear, and a song in my heart.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2003
I have to admit the first time I picked up this book I was a little doubtful. The first few pages confused me so much that I nearly stopped reading. But I was intrigued so I plowed through. Never have I been happier. This book is amazing. The main character John, narrates from a second person view and it works like a charm. Basically John is a boy who lives in a home thats not a home and has friends that aren't friends. He also has a man, who's not his father, physically abusing him. Despite the serious subject the book can be hilarious at times. He uses sardonic humor to completely draw the readers in. Put simply, this book has vaulted on top of my all-time favorite list, and I've read alot of books. Hilarious and thouroughly moving to the very last page.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2002
The only reason I got this book at all was that it had a silver cover. I swear, I would have completely bypassed it at the school library if the binding hadn't jumped out at me. After I saw that I couldn't leave it alone.
Reading the book had quite a similar effect on me. I was hooked from the first lines, where John talks about how his room isn't really his room and his homework not really his homework. I enjoyed that because what he says is (sometimes a bit eerily) true.
Why eerily? Well, our society as a whole tends to ignore the fact that things aren't always what they seem. We have endless things that are replacements for things that didn't last, and to cover up the fact that they are not the real thing, we give them a different name. For instance, John's mother's boyfriend, who will soon be his stepfather, is never referred to as such. He is "the man who is not my father". This is true, but it is like John sees through the veil of putting a different thing in where an old one was and just giving it a new name.
John's own personal society is an oddball one. He entertains himself almost solely by pinpointing all the wrongs in the world and explaining to us, his listeners, what he sees that he (very clearly) knows we don't see. Maybe we didn't know John when we started the book, but we know almost everything about him now. He explains himself more clearly through what he sees around him than I have ever heard anyone explain themselves before. And, remarkably, he mostly reflects on his experiences in the present. There isn't an overwhelming number of flashbacks.
In short, YOU DON'T KNOW ME is a think book. You need to be able to concentrate on it, or else you'll get lost. Maybe you will discover the power of this book the same way I did- by opening it and reading something that rejuvenates, inspires, and confuses you all at the same time. I sincerely hope you enjoy this book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2004
I can say that I have never known anyone who has been affected by child abuse, but when reading You Don't Know Me, David Klass, I felt as if I was right there with John. He makes me feel like I am with him watching everything that happens either through his school or home problems, his girl and friend problems, or problems he has with himself. John tells the story of himself, a young teenager, who has little confidence or self-esteem.
In the beginning of the book, you meet the main character, John. He is one of the reasons why I love this book. He tells the story from his point of view and it really describes his feelings about everything happening. Although John goes through many difficulties with his life, he makes it through somehow. John gets so in depth about things and how he feels, that it's as if you're feeling and seeing what he is.
You Don't Know Me, is full of different situations that John experiences. The problem with his stepfather is very tough for him and he feels as if he can't talk to anyone about it. So, he has to deal with his problems on his own. The challenges that John has to go through keep the book suspenseful. It makes you want to keep reading. I didn't want to put the book down because I always wanted to find out what happens next.
John has few friends and it seems like not a lot of people like him. He is in love with a girl he calls Glory Hallelujah. Gloria is in his math class, "which isn't really a math class." Gloria is one of the prettiest girls in the school and John wishes he has a chance to go on a date with her. But the only problem is his closest friend likes her also! John makes up a lot of the characters names so that keeps you amused while feeling bad for him in the rest of the book. Glory Hallelujah, Mr. Steenwilly, Billy Beanman, John's mom and Violent Hayes are just a few of the people in John's world. I feel as if the most important character is John and his soon-to-be stepfather. In the book, they don't give the boyfriend a specific name because John describes him as his soon-to-be stepfather or the man who is not my father.
John is convinced that his mom doesn't care about him and "doesn't know him" anymore, hence the title of the book. In the book, John tells about his feelings and hints to what happens with his soon-to-be stepfather when his mom isn't around. He says, "That's right, I'm watching you right now sitting on the couch next to the man who is not my father, pretending to read a book that is not a book, waiting for him to pet you like a dog or stroke you like a cat. 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." He writes the story to his mother because he can't tell her things to her face. He feels that if he writes it down, it will help him feel better, but it never really helps.
The larger theme of the story is how love overcomes everything in a family. John keeps his feelings locked away from everyone else because he's scared. Mr. Steenwilly, his band teacher, tries reaching out to help him but John pushes him away. One night, everything is just too much for John and he can't take it anymore. John's mom goes away for awhile and he is home alone with his drunk "stepfather." But, you will only find out what happens if you read You Don't Know Me and get to know John. You'll realize how big of a problem child abuse is and understand what it's like to be in another person's shoes.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2002
David Klass must have a child himself, because he had nailed the age group. His style is accurate of most teenagers: bright, intelligent, disturbed. The main character, John, is full of hopes and dreams. He is amazing enough to survive some horrible stuff, but human enough to make his share of mistakes along the way.
John (no last name given) is a fourteen-year old boy. The traditional stuff of a story (precise location of setting, accurate names of chracters) is ignored in order to focus more on character relationships, which the book's theme revolves around.
John has an abusive stepfather. His mother is always working. His friends hate his guts. The girl of his dreams turns out to be a mean, deceitful witch. He is suspended from school.
Despite these serious problems, John survives. He is strong, he is a warrior. Klass keeps John grounded by making him witty. Humor easily finds itself intermingled with tragedy. This is the funniest book I ever read. More importantly, it reveals the dilemma of most teenagers: The longing to know where we belong in society, and the people we meet along the way. Klass portrays all characters simply, and true. For example, in Chap. 3 , the "secret sorority of pretty 14-yaer-old girls" is portrayed down to a tee. The nerds, the jocks; all stereotypes not ignored by the author, bot embraced with wild abandon.
Great understanding of teenagers makes this book insightful. It is good to see an adult understand, sympathize, and nobelize our generation when others carelessly dubb us "the X-generation." I thank Klass, it was well worth the time.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2005
this is most definetly one of my favorite books out of the millions that ive read. its honest..and actualy rather funny, the way Klass will write something and then will say "But that actualy didnt happen because.." And the there is John's imaginative way of describing things in an un-real manner, saying everything is posing as something else, like "the man that is not my father" and "anti-school" and that his tuba is actualy a frog pertending to be a tuba; he demands to get the point across, that nothing is as it seems. this book had a rather surprising ending to me; i think i might have been expecting it, but i was just hoping it would trun out better for John..but it all worked out well, it couldnt have been better.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2001
As far as I can tell, David Klass is a genius. Through the main character, he creates metaphors, figures of speech and vivid visualizations that let you know exactly what he is thinking and feeling. These sensory interludes are more real than reality, but at the same time, Mr. Klass never lets you lose sight that John, the main character, is very easy to relate to, and is a mostly normal human being. This book deals with high school's perils, crossing social boundaries, child abuse, and finally getting a date. I can't describe accurately enough what bliss I felt when I read this book. All I can say is that you NEED to read this book, too.