You Against Me by Jenny Downham
Comes Out: September 13, 2011
Publisher: David Fickling Books
Age Group: Young Adult
Parental Warnings: sex; drugs; heavy topics
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If someone hurts your sister and you’re any kind of man, you seek revenge, right? If your brother’s accused of a terrible crime but says he didn’t do it, you defend him, don’t you? When Mikey’s sister claims a boy assaulted her, his world begins to fall apart. When Ellie’s brother is charged with the offence, her world begins to unravel. When Mikey and Ellie meet, two worlds collide.This is a brave and unflinching novel from the bestselling author of Before I Die. It’s a book about loyalty and the choices that come with it. But above all it’s a book about love.
This book starts out with Mikey. Down on his luck and forced to shoulder the burdens foisted upon his family, he is working his hardest to make everything right. He's working in a restaraunt, with lifetime aspirastions of becoming a chef one day. He has to pay the rent, make sure his sister gets to school on time, and help his other sister through an awful experience.After his sister was raped at a party, he vows for revenge. He needs to protect her and she's too scared to come out of the apartment in fear of being attacked by her assaulter or one of his many widespread friends. Her attacker is powerful, rich, and influential. Mikey decides to take matters into his own hands.He goes to the house of the boy, but is surprised when the door is answered by a girl and he is invited to a party. When he comes to the party, revenge is on his mind. But somehow during the party, he seemed to be getting more and more interested in Ellie. Is it possible he might be falling in love with her?Ellie's world is crumbling. Her brother was accused of raping a girl, a girl who just wants money and pity. Her family has the most powerful lawyers, influential friends, and money. After all, only a few accused rapists actually go to prison. And she is sure that he is innocent. At school, she throws herself into her studies, ignoring girl's hateful comments, saying nasty things and bullying her about her brother.So when she meets Mikey, it seems as if everything is fixed. She might be in love. But as these two lovers discover each other's identities, will love be enough?This book was powerful. When I first read Jenny Downham's debut, Before I Die, I was blown away. This book was no different. Different plot, different characters, but same stunning writing. She can convey immense power and influence over words, while still making harsh topics seem elegant. Her words are injected with a sense of grace, even interspersing some free verse as some major emotions take hold.This book had so many overlapping and interwoven characters and plots. Tom's family interacted with Mikey's so often without even realizing it. They both hated each other, and both thought that the other was wrong.The storyline almost reminded me of Romeo & Juliet. There were the families that hated each other, the two teenagers falling in love with each other from conflicting families, and even more parallels that made me believe that it was more of a modern contemporary retelling. There was the same forbidden love, families dead set against each other, iconic reading, etc,.Every reader entering this book should know that it is about a very controversial, awful topic that is told in a narrative so compelling that you will not be able to put it down. It's not as disturbing as say, Living Dead Girl, but there are still some iffy scenes that make you gasp and want to put the book down while still clutching it.Parents wondering about this for their children should also know that this book deals with drugs and sex. The drugs aren't touched upon very much but they do come up once or twice in casual conversation and in one scene. Sex is one of the main topics of this book, both rape and casual sex. I couldn't decide how I felt about that; Jenny seemed to be straddling the line between a Speak-like educational and emotional approach and a DUFF-like approach to casual sex.The effect that a book like that has is oxymoronic. It's the type of book that you REALLY want to keep reading but are so horrified by the topic that you grimace many times throughout the book.I did enjoy the tension between Ellie and Mickey. They almost lashed out at each other in some parts, similar to Erin and Hunter in Love Story. It was more of a give-and-take love-and-hate relationship that seemed to grow and change throughout the book, like every realistic relationship pictured in books.Tom was really an enigma. He was a mystery for much of the book. You heard the point of view of Mikey's family, calling him "evil" and arrogant and that he was a monster. Then you heard about Ellie's memories, of the sweet little boy he was to her and how nice he was. Then you heard about him from outsiders, from Mikey's friends versus Ellie's friends.A lot of the different emotions towards him were shown at school. That is where both sides of the controversy met, and most of them converged on Ellie. Some of Tom's friends called Karyn a "slut" and Karyn's friends made snarky comments and ganged up on Ellie, calling her brother a monster and telling her all that they thought about him.Sometimes I got confused by the British education system. I wish that Jenny Downham had cleared that up or at least explained it a bit for some of her US readers. She didn't do a very good job of explaining, but more plunged us into her world right into the beginning. Although I appreciated her fresh style of writing, I didn't like how I found myself confused and dazed at some points.This book really brings to light the fact that there are two sides to every story. There's that expression, and nobody really ever believes it, because they have ONE thought buried in their mind, a concrete thought saying that they are right. The truth is that a lot of people are just too stubborn to see the truth. This book shows that.Interestingly enough, Jenny Downham used many of the same plotlines from Before I Die. There were some events that were almost exactly the same as what happened in Before I Die! I thought it was strange to see, because they were two completely different ideas. Before I Die was the story of a girl dying of terminal cancer! I didn't really know what was happening then and it seemed like she was recycling some plot ideas. You'd see what I was talking about if y'all read the book.Tom's parents were a huge part of the book. Tom's parents played a major role. His father's money was the reason that he had the support he did; his mother refused to even entertain the idea that he was guilty. The parents put so much pressure on Ellie to testify for her brother, and their entire world revolved around Tom. Ellie was required to study, and be the perfect child.I was sickened by it. They didn't even pay Ellie any attention and all their love went towards Tom. I felt horrible for Ellie. If this happened when their son was convicted of being a rapist, what would they have done before that? How did they treat Ellie? It was almost like Grace in Shiver, whose parents didn't even notice half the details of what was going on in her life. They were so wrapped up in themselves, and this quality was mirrored in You Against Me.Mikey's parents were important as well. His mother had to recover from the "stress" infiltrating her life because of Karyn, and get over her drinking problems in order to keep Social Security from taking Haley, her youngest daughter. A large portion of this book also contributed to the issues Mikey's family was struggling through juggling Karyn's case, Karyn in general, and keeping Social Security at bay.I liked seeing how his family dynamic changed in the book. They would fall apart, then heal, then fall apart, and then heal. A lot of the decisions that they made individually affected the family and changed the ending. So much happened in this family that was relevant to the book and it was great to read about.I must admit that I did get annoyed with Karyn several times in the book. I mean, at some points, I felt awful for her and towards the beginning, I was horrified about what happened to her and would be glued to the page when she spoke. Every word was pure sadness resonating out from her and her fear was palpable. But at one point, she was being so selfish and didn't see that Mikey was doing everything in his power to help her. He sacrificed so much for her, and she just stood there and told him that it wasn't enough and that she was the one suffering; that he was selfish.Mikey's dedication to his sister was inspiring. He gave up almost everything for her, and finally finds something to keep for himself: his love for Ellie. Ellie and Mikey's romance was both raw and beautiful, blossoming from a start of hate and lies and betrayal. Some of their exchanges were just beautiful and this book has the potential to be one of my favorite romances.Ellie was calm, and sedate, and I could tell that she was about to explode. She seemed like the kind of person who would hold everything in for the risk of hurting somebody else. She was afraid of jeopardizing anything for anybody who believed on her.I loved hearing about her relationship with Ellie. She constantly flashed back to memories of Tom taking care of her and was horrified by the charges pressed against him. She relaxed with him, and he was the big brother she would always look up to. I thought that was interesting because you wondered if the verdict would change anything. If he was guilty, would she miss him forever and lose her respect for him? If he was innocent, would they have a tension between them for the rest of their lives?This book is the true example of association. Both of them associate the other with lies and each one of them believes that the other one's family is wrong. As secrets are revealed and loves bloom, we find out the startling truth of what really did happen that night at the party.Stunning, fast-paced, and beautiful, You Against Me is not to be missed. With an intense plot and alternating points of view, it was amazing to read and eye-opening at the same time. My opinion? This is a book that everybody should read at least once.Recommended for anybody who loves: Just Listen; Speak; Living Dead Girl; Love Story; Before I Die; Bloom; Romeo and Juliet; North of Beautiful; etc,.Possible book club questions:What did you think of Tom?Do you parents only would notice her when she would rebel?How does the memory of Tom compare with the image of him as a "monster"?How does Mikey and Ellie's relationship compare to Romeo and Juliet?What are some of the parallels shown from Before I Die?How did families both grow and fall apart in this book?What do you think was going through Jenny's mind when she wrote about Karyn's fear in the apartment?Do you think Ellie and Karyn might ever be friends?Do you think Karyn might ever forgive Tom?How is Mikey's relationship with his mom similar to Ellie's relationship with her mom?etc,.