Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: You Against Me by Jenny Downham

Title: You Against Me
Author: Jenny Downham
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Pages: 413
Release date: December 2nd 2010
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought
Find out more: Amazon ; Goodreads

Goodreads description:
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.

First sentence:
Mikey couldn't believe his life.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I was extremely impressed by Jenny Downham's debut, Before I Die (review), so I had high expectations for this one. And while I had a few small problems with You Against Me, it definitely lived up to my expectations!

I love Jenny Downham's writing. Like Before I Die, You Against Me is so real, I felt like I was there along with the characters. The subtlety is great. Aside from the obvious issue of rape, it deals with a few other issues, all without being preachy. For eample, Mikey's mom is an alcoholic, and the way that affects the whole family is described really well. I actually liked this way of dealing with the issue better than a few other books about kids with alcoholic parents, because in You Against Me, Mikey's mom seems like a real person, and her actions are understandable and accessible (which isn't to say they're justified). Another issue the book deals with are social differences. Throughout the book it's obvious that Mikey and Ellie come from very different backgrounds, and I love how this causes small complications but is not the main topic. (Rich-girl/poor-boy-romances are way too cliched.) Jenny Downham addresses these issues with great subtlety, leaving it up to the reader what to make of them.

The characters are great and well-developed, the main characters as well as the minor ones. I love Mikey - he's adorable, but still a realistic boy character. I liked Ellie too, and found her easy to relate to (with one exception - I'll get to that later). The two of them together are adorable, and the romance aspect is really well-done. The romance  develops naturally, which is always really important to me. I really enjoyed scenes with the two of them together. Another thing I really liked is how all the characters' motives are understandable. Even though I didn't agree with all of them, you could understand why Ellie's mom, Ellie's dad, Mikey's sister and Mikey's mom act the way they do and make the choices they make. The only character I didn't feel like I really got to know is Tom, but I think it's impossible to understand him without getting into his head, and adding his point-of-view would have ruined the story.

I loved the whole family storyline. You Against Me raises some interestng questions - is it more important to protect your brother or sister, or to tell the truth? If one of your children does not want to lie to protect the other one, which of your children do you stick with? It deals with these diffictult choices with subtlety, and that aspect reminded me a bit of My Sister's Keeper, another book I loved (review).

I did have some problems with this book, though, but they're really hard to explain without spoiling the book. So I'll explain it vaguely now, and with more details in a seperate paragraph, which will contain spoilers. One problem I had is that, for me, it was obvious from the beginning on which sibling was lying and which was telling the truth. I just saw from the way they acted that it couldn't be any other way, and that took some of the suspense away. My second problem is that the way Mikey/Ellie admits to him-/herself that their brother/sister is lying is too abrupt. I think the transition is too short, and the way Mikey/Ellie say they doubted their brother/sister was telling the truth from the beginnig on but made up excuses because he/she didn't want it to be true is not realistic, considering his/her thoghts at the beginning of the book. (Sorry if that's confusing - this is just really hard to explain without giving the end of the book away.)

***This paragraph contains spoilers!***
So now I'm going explain that in more detail, which should be easier and make more sense. But don't read this paragraph unless you've already read You Against Me or don't mind spoilers! Okay, so my first problem is that I thought it was obvious from the beginning on that Karyn was telling the truth and that Tom really did rape her. How Karyn is so depressed and doesn't come out of her room wouldn't make sense if nothing had actually happened, and I never seemed to really trust Tom. I don't know why, he just always seemed suspicious to me, not wanting to talk about it and pushing Ellie away. That made the book somewhat less suspenseful for me. I also disliked how quickly Ellie admits to herself that Tom is lying. In the beginning, she's so sure her brother is innocent and can't believe he would hurt anyone, which makes no sense, considering what Ellie saw that night. It's mentioned that Ellie doesn't remember everything from that night, but how she suddenly does remember is not explained. As a reason why she didn't tell the truth from the beginning on, Ellie says that she always had doubts (which isn't true, at least from what the reader sees in the beginning) but always tried to explain it all away, not believing Tom could do something like that, which I don't think is possible - what she saw is clear evidence, and I couldn't imagine how you could explain that away.

The ending - ugh! It's not that it's not a good ending, but I was frustrated that the reader doesn't get to find out how the case ends - I want to know!

Despite these complaints I couldn't explain well, this is a really great book. It's subtle and makes you think. You Against Me is almost as good as Jenny Downham's debut, Before I Die, and I recommend both of them!


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