For What It's Worth

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: You Against Me by Jenny Downham

You Against Me
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. (YA, Fiction)

You Against Me is a story told with so many layers that I really struggled to write this review.

First and foremost it is the story of two families torn apart by an accusation of date rape. Ellie's older brother Tom is accused of raping Mikey's sister Karyn. Of course your first instinct is to close ranks and protect your sibling from the accusation or from Mikey's side, seek revenge for his sister.

Told in the alternating POV's of Mikey who has to ask himself; how far will he go to seek revenge? Will he use an innocent person to achieve his goals? and Ellie who has to come to terms with the fact that her brother may be guilty and she may be the key to helping Karyn. The choices they make will have ripple effects that have the potential to destroy their families and their own futures.

As if that isn't heartbreaking enough, Mikey & Ellie fall in love. Not only is You Against Me about the impossible choices they must make, it's also about a boy & girl and their struggle to be together. Not just with the rape hanging over their heads either. They come from very different socio-economic backgrounds. Mikey is the glue holding his very poor and dysfunctional family together. His mom is an alcoholic, his sister is barely functional after the rape and he is trying to make his youngest sister's life as normal as possible. All while holding down a job and keeping the social workers from ripping his family apart. His dreams don't really matter anymore. Ellie is from a wealthy, yet controlling family where appearances are everything. She is often left in the shadow of her brother and ignored by her demanding father.

In Mikey, Ellie finds someone who cares about how she feels and appreciates her on her own merits. Mikey finds a girl who he can be himself with. He starts to appreciate the quiet moments and believe in the future.

I may be reading too much into this novel but I thought Downham was trying to express different views about sexuality, relationships and consent. The Tom/Karyn dynamic takes on the issue of what constitutes consent. Downham keeps the facts vague right until the end so you really have to look at the whole picture and not make snap judgements.

Then she takes on the issue of sex in whole different light with Mikey and Ellie. I found Mikey's growth to be the most fascinating aspect of the book. Mikey is by no means a rapist but he doesn't have much respect for women either. Two weeks is a long term relationship in his eyes and sometimes doesn't even get the girls clothes off before he's having sex. After his sister is raped he starts to view sex & women through this new prism. His relationship and feelings towards Ellie are so touching and beautiful. I see Ellie as controlled, or at the very least submissive and second to the men in her life. Her relationship with Mikey, although a little Edward/Bella "I'm so in love with you/I can't live without you" to me, allows her to see her self worth and gives her the strength to start standing up for herself.

Almost every character in this book has to face some sort of demon and choose between self preservation or self sacrifice. It's really fascinating to see what people will do when cornered. It's not always a pretty picture.

The ending is a very good one but without everything tied up in a neat little bow which was fitting. There are a few lose threads but I think it will still leave you happy.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 This is a surprisingly complex story. No one is cookie cutter perfect and even Tom, the accused rapist, isn't written as one dimensional. It's a story of impossible choices, family loyalty and forbidden love. You Against Me made me squirm, made me think and made me smile.

Bonus: You Against Me takes place in the UK. I didn't always understand what everyone was saying…I had to ask my friend across the pond a few questions lol but the setting really worked for this story.

Buy the Book! You Against Me
Publisher: David Fickling Books September 13, 2010
Source: Amazon Vine program for my honest review


  1. hmm, i’m learning more and more of this novel.. nice review:)

  2. You've done it, I want it. I think you've also broken the 20 mark on my 'to-buy' books. I am grateful but also feeling like I have no claim to any money I have. This really sounds like a good book.

  3. I am pretty sure I remember right and see this one at the library, well on the computer over books that are coming

  4. This reminds me of Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma without the incestuous relationship. It sounds like something I would want to read as the complex relationships really appeal to me. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. It's on my list now. =)

  5. @Rowena - I've heard a lot about Forbidden.

    I hope you all get a chance to read You Against Me. I really enjoyed it.

  6. Yeah, I have to agree with Rowena. Something about the way you've described the dynamics of the characters reminds me of Forbidden.

    I think I'd like to give this one a try someday soon.

  7. Good review :) I enjoyed this book! :)

  8. Wow. It sounds too heavy for me, but I'm thrilled to know that it's this nuanced and thoughtful. Sounds like the author did a great job with handling a sensitive subject.

  9. I loved Downham's debut book, Before I Die, and can't wait to read this one! And now I'm even more excited, with this little glimpse into it. (Also Downham is a British author, so Before I Die is set in the UK, too. Her books are published there first, I believe.)

  10. I just read a book: Hero and heroine had their faults and they both made BIG mistakes. I loved it. Intense and most importantly...honest (Linda Kage - D. Daddy)
    Having read your review I feel like I MUST read this one, too. I always tend to shy away from these types of reads...why I don't even know. Maybe bec I expect depths and that the author handles different issues skillfully, which is hard to achieve. I'll definitely give it a try! Thanks for the rec.
    _yay_ @ BookthatThing

  11. I have this book sitting on my shelves. I've been waiting until I felt like reading a deep, emotional book since they tend to leave me feeling drained. You've made me want to pick it up sooner rather than later lol

  12. _yay_ I can't read too many heavy books like this in a row. I read Every You and Every Me by david Levithan right after and I have to say, I was in a dark place for days. They were both great books though.

    @Lindsi - It's a downer but also really romantic and hopeful

  13. Aww, I love this book. I agree that this book was more complex than I thought it'd be. And lol, you're right, the relationship between Mikey and Ellie was a little Twilightish. I think the author likes names that end in "eeee".

    Great review, as always!

  14. I'm so glad to see that you liked this one! It's one that I've been itching to read for AGES. I have a copy now and it keeps calling to me... I REALLY need to read it soon! :P