You Against Me by Jenny Downham
|You Against Me by Jenny Downham|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A book about love, loyalty and choices. Beautifully written and tremendously moving, it's a worthy follow up to the phenomenally successful Before I Die.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: December 2010|
|Publisher: David Fickling|
If someone hurts your sister and you're any kind of man, you seek revenge, right? If you're brother's accused of a terrible crime but says he didn't do it, you defend him, don't you?
It all seems so straightforward, doesn't it? But it's not straightforward at all for Mikey and Ellie. Mikey comes from a tower block. His mother's an alcoholic and Mikey has to shoulder most of the parental responsibility in the house - getting food on the table, getting his littlest sister to school, fending off periodic interest from social services. Meanwhile, he's trying to make something of himself, training as a chef at a seaside pub. Life's not easy at the best of times, but when his sister claims she's been raped, things begin to spiral out of control. Karyn won't leave the flat, her police support officer is concerned about the family situation, the accused boy's father has engaged expensive lawyers and is painting Karyn as a cheap tart and a liar. And Mikey wants revenge.
Ellie's brother Tom is the boy Karyn has accused. He flatly denies doing anything wrong - why would a boy like him need to rape anyone? Why indeed? Tom and Ellie lead privileged lives in a big house with huge grounds hidden behind a security gate. Tom's at college with a bright future ahead of him. Ellie herself is hardworking and intelligent - a high achiever, just as her rather controlling father expects. It's impossible to believe that a boy such as this could be a rapist, isn't it? A loving brother and childhood companion? That's what Ellie tells herself, anyway - and it's why she'll go to court as a witness, to tell the world that her brother just couldn't do such a thing.
And then, these two teenagers, poles apart in every way, meet. And everything changes...
Jenny Downham has a weight of expectation on her shoulders. Her debut novel, Before I Die, which tells the story of a girl dying of leukaemia, made a huge impact. It was difficult and uncompromising, but absolutely beautiful - it's combination that's difficult to pull off and even more difficult to pull off a second time. But she's managed it with You Against Me. I loved it. It's another book about a taboo issue, where Before I Die looked at death, You Against Me takes rape as its theme. Is date rape "proper" rape? Do girls ever ask for it? Do they make false claims?
Downham gets right to the bottom of all these painful questions, which is super in itself, but what she also does is look at families, just as she did in Before I Die. Superficially, Ellie's family has it all - wealth, success, social position. But it doesn't take too much scratching to reveal the problems nobody will really talk about. Mikey's family, by contrast, is openly broken. The search here is for something to bind them, and those ties do exist once you get below the surface.
So the book is about rape. It's also about first love as Ellie and Mikey find their feelings for one another grow, despite themselves. It's about revenge. But it's also about families and loyalties and making the right choices, no matter what the cost. It's beautifully written with a painful but penetrating awareness and it has one of the sweetest love scenes I've read in a book for teenagers.
My thanks to the good people at David Fickling for sending the book.
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr looks at rape within a fantasy context. If they're interested in exploring difficult issues, then Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma is a deeply moving book about the greatest taboo of all - sibling incest.
You can read more book reviews or buy You Against Me by Jenny Downham at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.