Friday, 22 July 2011

You Against Me - Jenny Downham

This was always one of those books that intrigued me because of the front cover yet I never picked it up or saw it. It was only when I was looking at the book in WH Smiths the other day that I saw this book and thought it looked and sounded so interesting and unique.

The only problem was the author. While everyone raves about Before I Die, Jenny Downham's first book, I didn't like it that much. It was, well, average for me. And to this day I still don't understand the wow factor it has. That's what made me hesitant about this book. Although, when I saw it in the library, I grabbed it. To say the least, it was what I expected.

Synopsis: 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 carelessness 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 and exams begins to unravel. When Mikey and Ellie meet, two worlds collide and it changes the course of how they see things. 

I have been putting off this review for a while because I had no idea what to write at all about it. 
I did like reading this book, there's no doubt about that but there was just something about it that made me not enjoy it as much as another book would. 

I have read a couple of reviews which all rave about this book and Downham's debut, Before I Die which I read a couple of years ago. I think the problem is that for me, her writing is quite flat, although she deals with the taboo type subjects really well. 
Her writing is readable and interesting but to me, it's nothing special. It's good, but it dips too much and there were times where I just wanted to get the book read and done, when normally I just would have stopped reading and moved on. But I didn't. I just wanted to finish the book, and go on to the next one. This was partly because it, for me, wasn't that great a book and partly because I wanted to know what happened. That's one of things I did love about this book, as well as the characters.

Mickey is one of those that you would class as a 'lad' or 'hard', although as you get into the book, he reveals a softer, kinder side to him as he is ultimately trying to help his younger sister. He is the only male in the family now who live in a council estate, with his sister refusing to go out, his mother turning to alcohol for answers and his youngest sister not going to school most of the time. However, he is ambitious. He wants to be a top chef in London. Set in a seaside town in Norfolk and with the stereotypes we take from where he lives, it seems like it will never happen, to start off with. By the end, you start to believe with him that it can happen and whatever your living and financial situations are, you can achieve whatever you want.  I like Mickey, more nearer the end as he does ultimately use Ellie to start off with for information, which kind of makes you hate him a bit. 

Ellie, on the other hand, is completely different. She is studious and always at home, revising constantly for her upcoming GCSE's (I know how it feels, really). At first, when she meets Mickey, she seems innocent and feisty but for me, it was lost nearly straight away. I liked her being hesitant about Mickey and questioning. Latterly in the book, she got annoying to me. I don't know why, but she did. I was annoyed at her for not telling the police sooner and for doing what she does in the novel. I preferred Mickey over her. Her father and brother are some of the most annoying characters I have read, seriously. Her father, I wanted to punch for being so horrible to Ellie, when she had done nothing at all wrong (seriously, she would just eat something and that's wrong.) Doesn't he care that funnily enough, he has another child? Obviously not. 
Tom, the brother, he just seemed to be so selfish and manipulative - both characters seemed unreal to me. 

The romance in the novel doesn't hit off straight away. What was weird for me was how Ellie accepts to meet up with a complete stranger. Although, they both do this for comfort and to find things out to help their families. It reminded me of a modern Romeo and Juliet where the feud is really within the rest of the family, not the couple themselves. However, there is no deaths. There is subtle romance throughout until the last few hundred pages where is seemed that the romance button suddenly switched on for the couple and the book. 
I also liked how Downham has left a bit of a mystery at the end, although as we've followed the court case the whole way through, I would have liked to know the outcome. At the beginning, I assumed Karyn (Mickey's sister) had changed her mind and accused Tom of rape but throughout the book, this judgement changed and by the end of it, I, and many others, thought 'Maybe Tom is guilty'. You never know, Downham's left the rest to you. I didn't like the end really, apart from this. It was weird how they were one minute being torn apart by their families and then, the next day, they're not and it's absolutely fine. It just seemed so unrealistic to me. 

Overall, this is a good book which outlines what it is like to be in that kind of situation of both sides, the defendant and the accused, and the impact within the family - it really gives you an experience of the emotions you feel and how the other children may think as they get left out. However, it is flawed and the writing was just flat and not always interesting in parts. Definitely an improvement from Before I Die
Verdict: If you liked Before I Die or these kind of books, go for it.

I give it a 3 out of 5

Author's Website:
Pages: 413
Publisher: Random House
Challenges: British Books Challenge

1 comment:

  1. I read this book in one day. Every time I put it down the characters haunted me and I had to pick it back up.
    It was a wonderfully told love story set against a backdrop of devastating realities.
    Not only is the story compelling, the author is hugely talented. I am always impressed by an author who can provoke me to feel sympathy for a character who is, for all intents and purposes, a "bad guy" which is exactly what this author does in some of the scenes between Ellie and her brother, the alleged rapist. At least once, I was moved to tears which has been known to happen to me when watching movies but rarely happens when reading a book.
    I realize not everyone may be comfortable with the content since this book discusses sex, drinking, smoking and drug use by teenagers. But having raised a teenaged girl who became an impressive adult, I learned that all of these things exist in their world even if we rather they didn't. Accepting that all these things might become her reality and talking openly about them is part of the reason I believe that my daughter never did any of those things. As such, I think the author wrote a realistic depiction of the teen world and handled these issues responsibly.


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