My rating: 5 of 5 stars
We meet Alex as he drifts in and out of an induced coma in the neurosurgery high dependency unit of a public hospital. He has been hit by a bus but cannot remember how it happened. Using an alternating narrative Sue Lawson trickles out information to us about how he got there.
This narrative style is very effective as it begins to fill in the details of Alex’s life before the accident, and also lets us track his progress in the now.
It is clear that Alex’s home life is far from ideal. His family consists of his bullying, nasty and social-climbing father; his soft, weak mother; his older brother – who is turning into his dad, his younger brother Harvey who is struggling to find his own voice; and his four-year-old sister, Mia – the light of Alex’s life. Through a series of episodes showing life before the accident it is clear that Alex’s life is made hell by his constantly baiting brother and awful father, with nobody to back him up, not even his own mother. These scenes are so well realised by Lawson that I keenly felt Alex’s deep frustration and understood the occasions when he lashed out. Of course, his father always takes Ethan’s side and Alex is punished. Not only does this pattern happen at home, it follows him to school where he is pushed around by his brother’s friends and Mr De Jong. De Jong grew up with Alex’s dad and was the victim of merciless bullying during that time, so when he finds himself as Alex’s teacher the sins of the father are visited upon the son. Alex is beset on all sides. Being in the hospital is almost a relief.
Sharing Alex’s hospital room is the unconscious Mackie, a cancer sufferer – a girl who was operated on the same day as Alex. She never utters a word, but through reading her scrapbooks Alex learns about her life – her dreams, her hopes, her fears and regrets and so do we. This gives her life within the story, she is a real character and Alex feels a connection to her. As his recovery progresses Alex starts talking to Paul, a psychologist, and the rest of the story is pieced together. As we get more and more of the picture there is a growing weight in the book. We know what is coming, we can feel it, but we can’t stop, we can’t look away. I read this book in 4 hours. The glimpses into each part of the story make you want to keep going, to reach a resolution.
We learn Mia is dead, and that Alex is blamed for it. We know Alex is in all sorts of emotional and mental pain and the only person that can save him, is himself. Through talking to Paul, Alex learns to forgive himself and he finds the strength to stand alone. Alex leaves the hospital for home and no sooner has he walked through the door, when Ethan starts in like nothing has changed. It has for Alex. The resolution, when it comes, is sudden, but satisfying.
You Don’t Even Know is a book about male relationships – raising the issues of bullying, the nature of “being a man”, and the importance of being sensitive to others.
When I finished this book, I hugged it close to my chest and cried. It was a very emotional experience for me, but that is as it should be. This is a powerful novel. I LOVED it. I think you will too.
Recommended for ages 13 and up.