The dead I know by Scot Gardner
Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 978 1 74357 384 3.
Sleepwalking Aaron has been found by authorities in the oddest of places and after helping the funeral directory with the body of a young girl who suicided from a local cliff overlooking the sea, Aaron fears that this will be where he too will go. He has internal worries about something he cannot admit to himself, nightmares which provide no clues, only an intense and gnawing fear, and despite the best efforts of his guardian, a woman called Mam, he feels that his life is coming undone.
A school drop out, constant truant and disinterested student, he is surprised when the local funeral director, John Barton, hires him This man tells the school counsellor that the boy knows death, and places his trust in him. He manages to get Aaron to clean himself up, takes him for a haircut and expects him to be at the funeral home on time. He expects him to communicate, not with the grunts he usually gives but a response to the cheery good morning given to him each day.
The first few funerals he is involved in leave him light headed and unsure but the director's confidence is never shaken. He travels with John to retirement homes to pick up bodies, to a home where a man has died, to the road where a motorcyclist has been killed, a home where a baby has died and then a suicide. Each death he is involved with makes Aaron stronger, each funeral he attends builds his confidence. At home in the local caravan park, he has increasing trouble with Mam, who is becoming more aggressive, clumsy and forgetful One night he must take her to the hospital, and stunned at the questions he is asked and the routines of the place he rings John Barton for help.
Barton comes to his aid without question, eventually taking Aaron home to his place while Mam remains in hospital. The staff at the hospital become suspicious of what is really wrong with the woman, but Aaron is non committal. At home at the caravan park, a family he avoids explodes into his life when their son is killed. Aaron is accused and thrown into jail, but it is the intervention of John Barton that sees him released into his care. Barton's young daughter Skye is attracted to Aaron and they share some of their fears
All the themes come together in a wholly believable way as the boy reveals what has happened to him and who his Mam really is. The reality of all their lives is exposed, showing that people cannot be judged on what is seen. At its heart a thriller, as the reader is led along the sometimes scary path of wanting to know just what is happening, the book explores death and mental illness
This is a great class text or an ideal small set when doing a literature circle about death, mental illness or growing up. Teacher notes are on the Allen and Unwin website.