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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.
This was a very good read with beautiful words that were just amazingly put together and you wish you can write things like Jenny Downham.
Firstly, I have to be honest and admit that I did not know about this book until I saw it in an op shop for three dollars and thought, 'Why not?'
I'm so glad I found it there.
You Against Me is first and foremost a story of a rape, told from the perspective of the sister (Ellie) of the accused and the brother (Mikey) of the victim, but it is also a story about finding love in the middle of all the collateral damage.
I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and I thought that it was going to be super depressing, being about a rape and the suffering associated with it, and while the subject certainly is depressing, Downham has been able to craft this story in a unique, fascinating and truthful way that kept me holding on until the very last page.
The premise is original and fresh, and even though the subject is very unfamiliar to me, I could feel the anxiety, feel the nervousness, the shame of the whole ordeal, from both Ellie and Mikey's perspectives.
And that's the unusual thing about this novel; you would expect that it would be written from the point of view of the victim (Karyn) and perhaps even from Tom (the accused), however it is Mikey and Ellie, the respective siblings that do the story telling. But their suffering is in no way small, or insignificant. Downham makes that clear throughout the novel, that the suffering that occurs when something horrific like this happens is in no way limited to the victim. It affects all those on the outskirts, whether that be in a small or profound way.
That being said, I found it a little difficult to connect with and understand the characters at certain points. At times, Ellie seems a little too soft, particularly when her father (ugh, I'll get to him later), reprimanded her cruelly and inconsiderately. And I realise that Ellie was highly stressed and perhaps didn't want to argue with her father if that meant more stress (and feelings of betrayal), but I just thought that perhaps she could have stood up to her father a little more assertively. Maybe.
Mikey is a wonderful character. Always trying to do what is best for his mother and two sisters, trying to hold things together while his mother spirals into depression and alcoholism and while his sister, Karyn, sits on the couch, damaged and fragile. But he often get things wrong and in this way, he is skilfully flawed.
Ellie's father is repulsively inconsiderate and sexist, particularly so towards the end of the novel. And yes, I understand he was trying to protect both his children, but by goodness, he is horrid.
In regards to the romance, I found it a little too stretched. It just doesn't seem realistic that Ellie and Mikey could fall in love so quickly and so deeply. I'm not even sure if what they had was love, but it was certainly growing. I just found the initial attraction too rushed; there would have been a lot of anger there between them, and so it doesn't follow logically that they would have fallen for each other so quickly. But I guess love isn't always logical.
The plot: fantastically unique and tense--I genuinely didn't want to put the book down.
Minor problems aside, this book deserves much, much applause.
All in all, a brave, wonderful and beautifully written novel that skilfully and tactfully deals with some extremely intense and horrible issues.
I love this:
'It was strange how words meant something when they came out of your mouth. Inside your head they were safe and silent, but once they were outside, people grabbed hold of them.'