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.
(Thanks goes to Rosi and Random House for providing me with an ARC of this book.)
Oh wow, this book. A few years ago I absolutely adored Jenny Downham's previous book Before I Die. It was so emotional and powerful and I couldn't wait to read more of her work. So I was absolutely thrilled to pieces when Random House offered to send me an advanced reader's copy of this book - You Against Me by Jenny Downham. This book will be published 2 December and you really must read it. It's a really beautiful book.
You Against Me tells a heart-breaking story of two families torn apart by a sexual assault. Mikey and his two sisters live in a council estate and seem to be just getting by. Mikey is really popular with the ladies and is really getting into his job in the kitchen of a pub. Learning new ways to cook and prepare food. When his little sister Karyn gets drunk at a party and accuses a wealthy boy of rape, Mikey and his whole family's lives are changed. Mikey's mother succumbs to drinking and staying in bed, Karyn refuses to leave the flat, drops out of school and refuses to leave the flat. It's left to Mikey to make sure his sister Holly gets to school on time and everyone is still eating. Karyn seems to really need to talk about what happened, but all Mikey can focus on is getting revenge on Tom. That's what big brothers are supposed to do, right? Protect their younger sisters?
Meanwhile, Ellie's family is transforming as well. Tom says he didn't do it. That Karyn was a willing partner, and Tom's little sister, Ellie is the only person in the house who can defend her brother. And that's what sisters should do, right? Defend her brother who has always been there for her growing up? Karyn's parents will do anything for their son Tom. Throw him huge parties when he makes bail to show to him and the whole neighbourhood how much they believe in their son's innocence. They hire the best lawyers and avoid any details or doubt about what happened that night. Ellie tells the police she didn't see or hear anything that night, but what really happened?
Everyone's opinions seem to be divided. Is Karyn a slut for getting drunk at a party and throwing herself at Tom? Should she have worn that skimpy skirt? Is Tom a rapist? If he's convicted, he could face time in jail, go on the sex offender's list. When Mikey comes poking around trying to find any clues or evidence that could help his sister's case, Mikey and Ellie have this immediate connection. But can two people who are brought together under these horrible circumstances ever really make it?
I really loved the ways in which Downham stressed loyalty in this book. Mikey and Ellie each have their own ties to their family and friends. How can either of them do something that will go against their sister or brother? Against their parents or friends. I love how Mikey struggles with this burden of protecting his sisters. How Ellie must carry the weight of her brother's future on her shoulders. And besides familial obligations, there's Jacko, Mikey's friend who seems willing to do anything for Mikey because they're best mates. And despite Karyn's reluctance to speak to anyone outside her family, you can see how much her friends are supporting her at school.
Honestly, as soon as I started this book, I couldn't bear to put it down. The characters are complicated and flawed. The dialogue and each character's behaviour seemed believeable and realistic. The pacing is fantastic and the story is absolutely absorbing. I couldn't wait to find out what happened. With Karyn and Tom, with Mikey and Ellie. With each broken family.
You Against Me was a real treat to read, and definitely one not to miss. Highly recommended.