What a remarkable book! Really, there isn’t another word that I can think of to describe You Against Me other then remarkable. A story that easily could have fallen into the depressing and already been done before categories managed to tell a story that has been told by thousands and to tell it in a way that made it interesting, fresh and dare I say, heart warming. Instead of tears I found myself smiling for Mikey and Ellie and wanting them to be happy despite the sadness and uncertainty around them. And that is entirely to the writing power of the amazing Jenny Downham. She took an incredibly sad story and made it into a story of first love and doing something for your self.
You Against Me is about Mikey and Ellie, two people from two different worlds that are forced into each other’s orbit after Mikey’s sister Karen accuses Ellie’s brother Tom of rape. Feeling like he wants to help his sister in someway Mikey ends up in Ellie’s life. As they two get to know each other and truths about the night in question between Tom and Karen comes to surface Ellie and Mikey must decide what is the right thing to do and if their relationship is worth it.
This story really was just fabulous. As any avid reader knows after a while you start to read books about the same thing. I can’t even count the number of books that I have read that have had some form of sexual assault in them. But Downham did a fantastic job of making this book her own and not making the assault the complete focus. Don’t get me wrong, it is a major theme and the catalyst of the whole story, but by making Ellie and Mikey the main characters she showed more how rape affects the family and not just the victim and perpetrator. By putting Mikey and Ellie into a relationship it took the story on an expected twist. Instead of it being about a girl who was raped and how she deals with it when it looks like the boys wealthy parents will get him off, it is about young love, secrets, doing the right thing, and finally doing something for yourself.
What also helped the story and made it fresh was the fact that Ellie and Mikey were so completely likeable. I really loved both of them to pieces. Here is Mikey this 20 year old boy trying to do what he can for his family. His mother isn’t the best parent, his sister is falling apart and his younger sister knows nothing but chaos. He has dreams of moving to London and being a real chef yet he put his own dreams on hold for his family. And then you have Ellie, the good girl from the well off family. She has always done as she should and followed her parents rules and loves order. She itched to step out of the box but maintained her good girl persona. Seems like simple enough character traits, but when you put both Ellie and Mikey together the chemistry just exploded off the page. You could see where both of them were coming from, but you could also see why they were drawn to each other. It was pretty remarkable the way it was done.
Basically what could have been a sad mopey story was really anything but. Out of a vile incident and the quest of two siblings trying to protect their family you got a story of first love. Sure it was a tough read at times, like when the rape was described, but mostly I felt uplifted and fighting smiles. I highly recommend this book. I’m glad I read it and I think you will be too.