Wednesday, January 18, 2012

REVIEW: You Against Me by Jenny Downham

You Against Me
by Jenny Downham
Released on 12.02.2010 (U.K.)/09.13.2011 (U.S.)
413 pages
Publisher: David Fickling Books (website)
Source: gift from family

If someone hurts your sister and you're any kind of man, you seek revenge, right? If your brother's been accused of a terrible crime and you're the main witness, then you banish all doubt and defend him. Isn't that what families do? When Mikey's sister claims a boy assaulted her at a party, his world of work and girls begins to fall apart. When Ellie's brother is charged with the crime, but says he didn't do it, her world of revision, exams and fitting in at a new school begins to unravel. When Mikey and Ellie meet, two worlds collide. Brave and unflinching, this is a novel of extraordinary skillfulness and almost unbearable tension. It's a book about loyalty and the choices that come with it. But above all it's a book about love - for one's family and for another. (from GoodReads).

REVIEW: There's a lot to really like in this one, and even some moments to really, truly love.  You Against Me is a well-written and poignant book about the people who stand behind, beside and against both the victim and the accused of a heinous crime.  It's rare for me to appreciate what I view primarily as a plot-driven book.  I was surprised myself, but Jenny Downham has crafted a sensitive and realistic story about what happens when two people, two families and an entire school face each off and take sides over an accusation of rape.  Bear with me.  I feel the need to use bullet points on this one:

The Good Stuff
  • every character is realistic, and not a single one is angel or a demon.  They are fully rounded characters regardless of their importance in the story.  Downham nails the notion that there are no easy decisions and everyone is susceptible to bad decisions and good actions
  • going with that same theme, Downham really shows through character interaction that slippery slope question of what is good-natured teasing/flirting and what is harassment, and it seems like each individual has their own definition of what is going 'too far'.  She truly shows through her characters how society views the treatment of women in many, many shades of grey.  And quite a bit is really ugly.
  • Mikey and Ellie are fabulous foibles to each other.  Their families' circumstances are incorporated into their characters with such good planning that this also turns into a story beyond rape and into one that also draws distinctions about social and class differences
  • I love the growth of Mikey in particular!  The beautiful, touching scenes between him and Ellie were absolutely some of the best parts of the book.  And the ones with him and another girl really show his none too savory characteristics.  
  • Ellie is amazing.  I want her for a daughter and a friend.  It's not that she doesn't screw up, it's that she comes full circle and eventually gets to where she needs to go
The Eh Stuff
  • Part of the reason that I am using bullet points for this review is because I failed to become fully emotionally involved in this story.  I read it one sitting.  As much as I appreciate the book and the plot, there lacked an essential hook for me.  The 'it' glow that takes it from being a book that I like to one that I love wasn't there.
  • I really appreciated that this book showed the 'other' people affected by rape, but I think it would have been a fuller, more emotional story if both Mikey's sister and Ellie's brother had bits told from their points-of-view.  Perhaps then it would've have been too much, but I struggled with finding an emotional center that tied me to the book the whole way through, but not including the people directly accused and primarily affected made the story feel like it had something missing.
  • Didn't buy the ending.  After everything, I just don't see how. . . 
Do I still think you should read this one despite me 'eh' points?  You bet.  Although I didn't love it, given that I STILL liked this one even though it's carried by the plot means it's made of WIN for you good plot lovers.  You Against Me has clear, meaningful writing that will make you think, question, be angry and give thanks.

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