Saturday, August 13, 2011

You Against Me by Jenny Downham

Mikey's sister Karyn won't leave the house after a boy assaults her.  Ellie knows her brother would never intentionally hurt anyone.  All Mikey wants to do is hurt Tom for hurting his sister.  All Ellie wants to do is protect Tom like Tom always protected her.  Tom pleads not guilty for assault and is out on bail while Karyn refuses to go back to school or speak to her friends.  Mikey's plan was to use Ellie to get information on Tom, but as the two start to know each other better, Ellie begins to doubt that what she's doing is right.

This book clearly deals with a very serious issue, date rape, but it went about it from an unusual angle.  Rather than focusing exclusively on the victim or the perpetrator, it looks at how such an act effects their families.  Mikey struggles with the powerlessness he feels, while Ellie struggles with the conflicting feelings of protecting her brother or telling the whole truth.

Ellie's initial reaction is to protect her brother, which is strongly backed up by her parents, especially her father.  Family is first, and Karyn was just a drunk little slut who had regrets in the morning and is trying to ruin Tom's life.  Ellie tells the police that she was sleep the whole night, but before she went to bed, she saw Tom and Karyn standing together with their arms around each other.  This turns out to not be actually true.  Ellie saw more than she told the police, but she doesn't allow herself to believe that Tom would actually hurt Karyn.  As time goes on, she becomes more and more upset, but her family is unwilling to listen to her.

Mikey's family is a bit of a mess.  Even before Karyn wouldn't leave the house, they all had to deal with their mother who regularly disappears to go on alcoholic benders.  Mikey is the only one in the family who works, having dropped out of school two years before.  It's hard enough to get his little sister Holly to school on time, and now he's constantly worried about his sister and is furious at Tom.  He and his friends plan to beat Tom up, but then Mikey meets Ellie.  At first, he convinces himself he's only spending time with her because he needs information about Tom, but soon it's clear that they both have feelings for each other.

Ellie becomes more confused as her feelings for Mikey grow, torn between her family and protecting the brother she loves and telling the truth.

There are some interesting looks at class.  Ellie's family is well off and can hire the best lawyers in town.  Mikey's family is poor and is relying on social services.  When talking about the court case, they are planning on spinning Karyn as a social climber who wanted a rich boyfriend.

While there's some hope at the end, there isn't any firm conclusion.  We don't know how the court case comes out, or what will ultimately happen to Tom or Karyn once the trial is over.

One thing I think is worthy of note:  You Against Me came out in the UK in 2010, and I think is the only YA book I've read where the American version hasn't been rewritten using American slang and terminology.  That's kind of cool, but I think it's worth noting that some kid might come up to you and ask why on Earth Ellie is spending so much time "revising."  And you will be prepared to explain about the difference in slang and that it just means she's studying. 

You Against Me comes out September 13.

1 comment:

  1. I just loved this book. Great characters, compelling situation, excellent writing. This book has it all. Great read for teens and adults.


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