Moving, wholly involving, original, and emotionally true, You Don't Know Me is a multilayered young adult novel that presents a winning portrait of an understandably angst-ridden adolescent.
John ("My father named me after a toilet!") wrestles with the certainty that no one really knows him -- not in his miserable home, and certainly not at school. It's true that no one can guess his hidden thoughts, which are hilarious, razor-sharp observations about lust, love, tubas, algebra, everything. And then there's his home: his father ran off years ago, so he's being raised by his mother, who works long hours, and by her boyfriend, whom John calls "the man who is not and never will be my father." This man is his enemy, an abusive disciplinarian who seems to want to kill John and, in a horrible final confrontation, nearly succeeds.
About the Author
David Klass is the author of many young adult novels, including You Don't Know Me, Losers Take All, and Grandmaster. He is also a Hollywood screenwriter, having written more than twenty-five action screenplays, including Kiss the Girls, starring Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, Walking Tall, starring The Rock, and Desperate Measures, starring Michael Keaton and Andy Garcia. Klass grew up in a family that loved literature and theater-his parents were both college professors and writers-but he was a reluctant reader, preferring sports to books. But he started loving the adventure stories his parents would bring home from the library-particularly Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson and Alexandre Dumas. After his sister twice won a story contest in Seventeen magazine, Klass decided he would win it too, and when he was a senior in high school, he did, publishing his first story, "Ringtoss," in the magazine. He studied at Yale University, where he won the Veech Award for Best Imaginative Writing. He taught English in Japan, and wrote his first novel, The Atami Dragons, about that experience. He now lives in New York with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
You Don't Know Me
By David Klass
Frances Foster BooksCopyright © 2001 David Klass
All rights reserved.
Who I Am not
You don't know me.
Just for example, you think I'm upstairs in my room doing my homework. Wrong. I'm not in my room. I'm not doing my homework. And even if I were up in my room I wouldn't be doing my homework, so you'd still be wrong. And it's really not my room. It's your room because it's in your house. I just happen to live there right now. And it's really not my homework, because my math teacher, Mrs. Moonface, assigned it and she's going to check it, so it's her homework.
Her name's not Mrs. Moonface, by the way. It's really Mrs. Garlic Breath. No it's not. It's really Mrs. Gabriel, but I just call her Mrs. Garlic Breath, except for the times when I call her Mrs. Moonface.
Confused? Deal with it.
You don't know me at all. You don't know the first thing about me. You don't know where I'm writing this from. You don't know what I look like. You have no power over me.
What do you think I look like? Skinny? Freckles? Wirerimmed glasses over brown eyes? No, I don't think so. Better look again. Deeper. It's like a kaleidoscope, isn't it? One minute I'm short, the next minute tall, one minute I'm geeky, one minute studly, my shape constantly changes, and the only thing that stays constant is my brown eyes. Watching you.
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.
Those are his words. "I'll really take care of you, John. Don't rat on me or you'll regret it." Nice guy.
But I am telling you now. Can't you hear me? He's petting the top of your head like he would pet a dog, with his right hand, which just happens to be the hand he hits me with. When he hits me he doesn't curl his fingers up into a fist because that would leave a mark. He slaps me with the flat of his hand. WHAP. And now I'm watching him stroke your cheek with those same fingers. He holds me tight with his left hand when he hits me so that I can't run away. And now he's holding you tenderly with his left hand. And I'm telling you this as I watch through the window, but your eyes are closed and you couldn't care less, because he's stroking you the way he would stroke a cat and I bet you're purring.
You don't know me at all.
You think I'm a good student. Hah!
You think I have friends. Hah!
You think I'm happy with this life. Hah, hah!
Okay, now you're putting down the book that is not a book. It's a Reader's Digest condensation of literature, which is like drinking orange juice made from concentrate. It has no pulp. The key vitamins have been processed out. You're pressing your head against his shoulder. I can see your toes move inside your pink socks on the coffee table. What's with this toe movement? Is it passion or athlete's foot? There is some kind of serious itch there.
And now the man who is not my father puts down his book, which is a real book, because he's not a stupid or shallow man, just cruel and self-centered. He kisses you long and full on the lips, and then on the side of your neck. And you glance upstairs, nervously, because you think I'm up in my room doing my homework. You don't know that I'm floating twenty feet above our backyard, watching this display of misplaced affection.
No, I am not levitating. I do not have secret wings that allow me to fly. I am not a vampire. I am not hanging by my heels from the roof or clinging to a drainpipe.
So where am I?
You don't know me at all.
I'll give you this one. I'm in the apple tree, which is not an apple tree. The man who is not my father calls it an apple tree, but it has never produced a single thing resembling an apple. Nor has it produced a pear, so it is not a pear tree. Nor has it produced a pair of apples. Nor has it produced a pineapple, so it is clearly not a pineapple tree. The only thing I have ever seen it produce is thin gray leaves, so I will call it a gray-leaf tree.
That's where I am. Sitting in the gray-leaf tree. There's a full moon out tonight, so if I were a werewolf or a vampire I would be hungry or thirsty for flesh or blood. But I'm full with the gluey spaghetti and golf ball meatballs from dinner. The only effect the moon has on me is to make me think of Mrs. Moonface and my five pages of algebra homework that is really her homework, except that for some reason I'm the one who got stuck with it.
Mrs. Moonface assigns us so much homework because she is miserable and lonely. I wrote a poem to her. It's not a very good poem, but I don't really care. The first stanza goes like this:
Mrs. Moonface, get a life,
Get a nose ring, fly a kite,
Find a boyfriend, learn to ski,
Just stop taking it out on me.
The man who is not my father is switching off the lamp. Now our house is dark except for the light in my room, which is really not a room, where I am not doing homework.
Except that I am actually up there doing homework after all! Did you really think that I was up in the branches of an apple tree? Not necessary. You don't have to see things to know that they are happening. Anyway, I don't like climbing trees. It's a cold fall night. The wind is howling around our house like a live animal.
I finish the last algebra problem. Put down my pencil.
Downstairs I can hear the springs of the couch creaking. The man who is not my father is repeating your name, with passion in his voice. But it's not really your name, even though it belongs to you. It's really the name of his pretty first wife, Mona, who died in a car accident five years before he met you and decided to move into your house, and take on the duties of disciplining your son.
And now he is repeating your name and thinking of Mona.
And you are listening to him and thinking of my father.
And I am not in this house at all. I am in the middle of a hurricane. Thunder is cymbal-crashing above and beneath me. Lightning makes my hair stand up. Winds are spinning me like a top. Do you really think I will come down to breakfast tomorrow and call the man who is not my father sir? Do you think I will go to school tomorrow and hand in my homework to Mrs. Moonface? I won't even be in this hemisphere tomorrow. This storm could set me down anywhere.
You don't know where I'll end up.
The good news is that you may have created my past and screwed up my present but you have no control over my future.
You don't know me at all.CHAPTER 2
This is not school, this is anti-school. If school and this place ever came together there would be an explosion that would destroy the entire universe.
How do I know that it's anti-school?
School is a fun place and this place is torture.
School is for learning and this place is for becoming stupid.
This place doesn't even have a library, and who ever heard of a school without a library?
I'm sitting in the middle of third period of anti-school, in anti-math class, listening to Mrs.
Moonface go over the problem sets. Here is what she is saying: "The coefficient of a multiplied by the divisor of c yields the identity of the variable."
Here is what she is really saying:
"I do not wish to be Mrs. Moonface and I hate algebra as much as you do. I really wish to be a Hollywood movie star and have my own trailer with mirrored walls and a sandwich tray delivered every hour by a handsome man named Jacques."
Mrs. Moonface, you will never be a Hollywood star. You could assign sixteen thousand pages of algebra homework and you would not become a Hollywood star. You are Mrs. Moonface, named after the lunar surface, by me, for obvious reasons that have to do with the color of your skin and the roundness of your chin. And I am John, named after a toilet, by my father for reasons that are not so obvious. He could have called me kitchen. He could have called me living room. He named me John.
Next to me is Billy Beezer, whose name is really Bill Beanman but who I have rechristened Beezer on account of his nose, which is three times longer than seems natural, and which I have nicknamed Beanman's Beezer. He could be an aardvark, which is a kind of anteater that lives in the front of the dictionary. He could be a sloth, which is a tailless mammal that eats, sleeps, and travels upside down. But he is neither aardvark nor sloth; he is Billy Beezer, my friend who is not a friend.
He is not a friend because we are both in love with the same girl. Her name is Glory Hallelujah and she is the ugliest girl in our entire anti-school. She is so ugly her mirror tries not to look back at her in the morning. Her hair is so greasy that lice iceskate on it. She is also the stupidest girl in our anti-school. She is so stupid that she might actually like me.
Okay, I'll give you the truth here. Because it's important. Her name is not Glory Hallelujah but Gloria. She is not ugly at all. In fact, she is the most beautiful girl in our anti-school. She is also smart as a whip, whatever that means. I just pretend that she is ugly because I am thinking of asking her out on a date, and when she says no I want to be able to tell myself that I didn't really want to go out with her anyway, because she is so ugly.
Billy Beezer is also thinking of asking her out on a date, but he is too self-conscious about his long beezer to ever actually do it.
"John," Mrs. Moonface says, "can you tell us the lowest prime number that is also a factor of forty-eight?"
No, Mrs. Moonface, I can tell you a lot of true things, but I cannot tell you that. I can, for example, tell you exactly the way Glory Hallelujah's ankles are crossed at this very second, right on top of left, with her white socks stretched up taut almost to her knees. I can tell you that Billy Beezer is smart not to ask her on a date, because she would laugh at him, whereas she would never laugh at me, even if she said no, which she will never say, because I will never get the courage to ask her.
"John, are you thinking? Are the wheels turning?"
I can also tell you, Mrs. Moonface, about this African tribe I was reading about in National Geographic called the Lashasa Palulu who, when they are in their homes, walk on their hands so that they will not leave footprints in their houses. No, that is a lie. There is no such tribe. But it's not a bad idea. The man who is not my father WHOPPED me yesterday for leaving mud tracks across the kitchen that is not a kitchen.
It is not a kitchen because it cannot produce a good meal. Nothing resembling edible food has ever been prepared there. Surely, if it were a kitchen, something good to eat would eventually come out of it. That is the definition of a kitchen. It must be a bedroom or a bathroom masquerading as a kitchen. This is the problem with my house. None of the rooms are what they seem to be. My bedroom, for example, is not a bedroom, because I cannot sleep in it. I suspect it is a closet, because it's so small.
"John, we can't wait forever ...?"
Anyway, Mrs. Moonface, I was crossing the kitchen that is not a kitchen when the man who is not my father grabbed me so hard his fingers dug into my shoulder and he shouted, "Look what the hell you're doing!"
And I looked down. There were four or five muddy footprints on the linoleum floor, and by coincidence and bad luck they happened to be about the same size as my feet. Now, if I were a Lashasa Palulu, this would never have happened, because I would have been walking on my hands. But since I am who I am—a person you don't know, and will never know—they were there, and I got WHOPPED. A WHAP is a slap to the arms or body, and WHAPS hurt badly enough, but a WHOP is a hard smack to the back of the head that makes your eyes see red and yellow, and makes your ears ring.
"So," the man who is not my father said, "I guess you'll think twice about tracking mud through the house again."
Now, if I were a Lashasa Palulu, I would probably have kicked him in the nose, because one advantage of walking on your hands is that it leaves your feet free for combat, but since I was not born into that tribe that is not a tribe, all I could do was start to cry, because the WHOP hurt so much.
"Go ahead and cry," the man who is not my father said. "You make me sick."
So I cried, because making him sick seemed to be the only way I could harm him, and, frankly, because I couldn't stop myself. It hurts to cry like that when you don't want to do it, in front of someone you hate.
Every tear burns.
"Look at you," the man who is not my father said, "just look at you. You'll never be a man. Quit blubbering. I said quit it." And he WHOPPED me again, even harder.
"John?" Mrs. Moonface asks. 'Are you with us? Are you in the Milky Way galaxy? We're running out of time."
Mrs. Moonface, obviously I cannot answer your question, because my ears are still ringing from the two WHOPS, so why don't you select another member of the studio audience? The man with the hat, or the woman with the false teeth, perhaps ...
"John, do you even hear me? Are you not well?"
Billy Beezer gives me a hard elbow in the ribs. "Doofus, just say you don't know. You're making an idiot of yourself."
But, thankfully, at that moment I am rescued by Glory Hallelujah, who raises her hand and at the same time calls out the correct answer to Mrs. Moonface's question without any hesitation, thereby saving me from eternal doofusness.
"That's correct," Mrs. Moonface says, with an approving look to Glory Hallelujah.
Glory Hallelujah gives no obvious sign that she knows she has saved my life. She doesn't look at me. She doesn't say anything to me. But what she does do next is brush her blond hair off her neck with her left hand, which can only be a secret signal to me.
I scratch my right ear, which is the secret answering signal of gratitude.
That is when I decide that I will ask her out on a date.CHAPTER 3
I do not play the tuba. The tuba plays me.
My tuba is actually not a tuba, because it has never produced a musical sound. It is actually a giant frog pretending to be a tuba. Every so often it forgets that it is pretending to be a tuba, and it gives a loud croak that causes Mr. Steenwilly to jerk his head around so fast he nearly gets whiplash. He looks at me with his baton quivering in the air and his mustache quivering on his upper lip, and I know what he's thinking. "You are killing this piece of music," he is thinking. "You are murdering this song. You should be arrested by the music police. They should hang you from a music stand."
Mr. Steenwilly, I cannot argue with you—I am murdering this piece of music. That is a fact neither of us can dispute. But surely you must understand that I cannot get a musical sound out of what is really a giant frog pretending to be a tuba. I move my fingers and blow my lungs out. Occasionally it croaks.
No one is to blame here.
Furthermore, Mr. Steenwilly, I do not wish to be here any more than you wish me to be here. Band practice is not my idea of a good time. Music is not in my blood. I do not sing in the shower. I do not whistle in the dark. I cannot sing on key. I cannot even sing off key. Mr. Steenwilly, I cannot sing, I cannot whistle, and I cannot possibly play a tuba that is really not a tuba.
You just gave me that look again, because the tuba that is not a tuba just played a note that is not a note. In fact, I believe it was a bullfrog croak that means "I'm hungry. Where are the insects in this pond?" I admit that there are no hungry bullfrog croaks in this march by John Philip Sousa, but the salient point here, whatever that means, is that I am not to blame.
Let me repeat that, because it is an important message for the whole world to hear: I AM NOT TO BLAME.
The frog seems to have gone to sleep in my arms, and no sound at all is coming out of the tuba that is not a tuba. I will continue to puff my cheeks and move my fingers, but this is a good chance for me to clear the air with you about why I am here, Mr. Steenwilly.
The only reason why I am here is because in our anti-school there is a rule that everyone must participate in one extracurricular activity. Now, I couldn't play football, or any other sport, because I'm too strong and fast and well coordinated and I would embarrass all the other athletes, and impress too many girls, and then everyone would hate me for being such a success.
I couldn't join the Student Council because it's really not a student council in that it has never provided counsel to any students or accomplished anything positive for anybody. It's really a group of students nobody likes, who try to get elected to completely meaningless but impressive-sounding positions so that they can put "leadership skills" down on their college applications. Billy Beezer is on the Student Council. He and I ran against each other in our homeroom and everyone felt sorry for him on account of his long beezer, so he won and I lost. Of course, I am glad that I lost because I did not really want to be on the stupid Student Council anyway.
Excerpted from You Don't Know Me by David Klass. Copyright © 2001 David Klass. Excerpted by permission of Frances Foster Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1 Who I Am not,
3 Band Practice,
4 Get Me Out of Here,
5 Losing by a Snout,
6 Dinner Theater,
7 Torture Island,
8 Permit me a Father Fantasy,
9 The Happiest Day of My Life,
10 The Best day of My Life Gets Better,
11 In the War Zone,
12 The Bonanza Ranch House,
13 My Big Date,
14 The Worst Thing that Could Happen,
15 A Short Haul,
16 Trump Card,
17 Running away from Home,
18 Fateful Tuesday Begins,
19 Fateful Tuesday Picks up Steam,
20 Fateful Tuesday Reaches a Crescendo,
21 The High Command,
23 No-view Alley,
24 The Holiday Dance,
26 Who I am,
Epilogue, Whatever that means,