Saturday, March 5, 2011

Book review: You Against Me


You Against Me
A brother intent on defending his sister's honour, a sister intent on defending her brother's name and an unasked for love that could be the undoing of them all.

You Against Me by Jenny Downham (David Fickling Books)

When Mikey's sister claims to have been sexually assaulted, the world as he knows it, comes crashing down.

When Ellie's brother is accused and charged with the crime, the perfect family life she's always known slowly starts falling apart.

Of course, if you're any kind of man, the first thing you'd do is risk everything to try and take revenge right?

And if you're the sister of the boy who is accused of the crime, then surely your job (considering that you're the main witness) is to push aside your own emotions, defend him and banish any form of reasonable doubt, correct?

Yet, when Ellie and Mikey meet, 2 polar opposite worlds collide and set them on a path that will affect not only them, but those around them too.

Their journey and their story is a story that will not only test their loyalty, but it's a story that will affect the very choices that they need to make… choices that could bring restoration for one family, and tear another family further apart.

And in between, they'll need to discover whether a love so seemingly impossible is a love still worth pursuing.

Review:
The synopsis of this book sounds as if it's just another run-of-the-mill, been-there-done-that before concept doesn't it? And yet, Jenny Downham's You Against Me is anything but that.

Is it a love story?

Well, yes it is, but my recommendation and review of this book is not going to be based on telling you that you should read the book because it's a forbidden love story about 2 people from 2 opposite sides of the spectrum who are not only divided by their different social spectrum, but also by an accused crime tearing both of their families apart.

Rather, what makes this novel so incredibly moving, powerful and really worth reading is how choices are made and how the backdrop of their love story forms and shapes the decisions that Mikey and Ellie make based on their situation.

And what really struck me about this novel is that Jenny Downham has an effortless knack for conveying this throughout her novel.

 The story starts at the point where a crime has already been committed and charges have been pressed.
 
When we're introduced to Mikey, we get an immediate sense that while he's popular boy with plenty of girls at his beck and call, he's also weighed down by the knowledge of his sister's assault. 

From the poorer side of town (he and his family live in a council house), he's left with the burdensome task of taking care of his family.

Karen, his younger sister drops out of school and refuses to leave the flat because of the assault, his mother has resorted to numbing the pain and escaping reality through alcohol and he's left with:

a) taking his youngest sister to school every morning,
b)cleaning the house,
c)buying the groceries and
d)trying to hold onto his job at the local pub.

In between all of this, his rage against Tom Parker for what he's been accused of doing to his sister dominates his thoughts so much that he and his friend spend hours trying to come up with a plan to hurt Tom.

Then he decides to gate crash a party being hosted for Tom. And it's here that he meets Ellie Parker.

Ellie's family in comparison have all the wealth to speak of, yet there's no denying that the fact that the accusations against Tom are affecting her family in more ways than one.

Surrounded by a father who is hell-bent on throwing parties for Tom in order to convince the town of his innocence and flanked by a mother who is quietly as desperate as he is to prove his innocence, Ellie is the one who left feeling out of place and burdened by the responsibility her parents place on her for her role as impending witness for her brother.

When Ellie and Mikey inevitably find their way to one another, they are like 2 pieces of driftwood moving together.

Both with the knowledge of what they're doing is wrong, but unable to pull away from one another. Inevitably, their moving together, changes mindsets and changes alliances... and when new events come to surface, the families both find themselves in a new kind of hell.

This novel is such a wonderful read. As mentioned before, it's not just a love story, but a story based on and influenced by their love story.

What adds to the beautiful complexity of this novel is the notion that truth is often a concept that's blurred, suppressed and hidden between the groves and left to fester until a wrong moment avails itself in order for it to be revealed.

Is Karen (who has a bit of a reputation with the boys) lying about the assault?  Or does Tom Parker hide a far more darker side to him than his family is aware of.  It's these questions that will run through your mind as you read this novel.

And what's more, Jenny has a remarkable way with creating characters that are so easily accessible that when you're reading the book, you can see yourself or anyone else in their situation.

Her writing is powerful and exquisite in its simplicity and through a mere thought, gesture and suggestion, she manages to convey a sense of guilty desperation between the main protagonists.

The interactions between the characters and their reactions to the drama that surrounds them are incredibly realistic and definitely something that I could see happening between families. This book may be a work of fiction, but it's written with a deep and psychological insight into families that are torn apart by real events such as these.

Some incidents that come to mind stand out quite vividly: Mikey for being questioned about hanging out with the sister of his enemy and Ellie being targeted on a daily basis at school by Karen's friends. 

The repercussions of the crime, both families' reactions on how they each deal with the assault and accused crime respectively are handled in an achingly authentic manner that makes this book more than just a forbidden love story.

I did have one issue though and that is that are a few loose ends that I would have liked to have seen tied. But this, perhaps, is me simply being subjective.

Perhaps Jenny wanted to leave certain situations open to interpretation and if you as a reader prefer being open-ended situations, then you'll love it even more than what I did.

And goodness knows that I already do. 

7 comments:

Leanna (Daisy Chain Book Reviews) said...

I've heard a lot of good things about this one, but I hadn't read read an in-depth review of it until now. Now that I have, I think it's something I'd really like. I'll have to add it to my TBR!

Great review! :)

Aisle B said...

Now that's a really interesting review on this book. I would have passed right by it had I seen it at Indigo. Now... going to go back and pick it up.

The best love story are the ones that have all the world against the lovers. Challenges beyond the real yet so imperative to pulling the reader in. Your review did it again and going to look for this one next.

It's a Book Thing said...

OOH! Sounds rather harrowing, but with a twist! A modern day Romeo & Juliet with a really real situation that most girls face, in the background. Will try to get my grubby book loving hands on this one! Great Review! Thank you!

Clover said...

What a wonderful review of a fantastic book :) I really loved the way in which Jenny Downham crafted this one, I thought it was superb.

Jan von Harz said...

Wow this sounds like one heck of a powerful story, I have had my eye on it and wondered about getting it but after reading your fab review, I am totally convinced that I want to red this one. Thanks

Brandileigh2003 (Blkosiner's Book Blog) said...

Thanks for your awesome review-- I really wanna pick this up now!

Brandi from Blkosiner’s Book Blog

Dazzling Mage said...

Ooh, I really want to read this now. I love how you emphasized that there's a bigger picture than the love story. Great review!