You Against Me – Jenny Downham

youagainstmeI read Jenny Downham’s first novel Before I Die a few years ago and I really like it a lot. I liked You Against Me, too. Downham certainly isn’t afraid to tackle the big stuff.

Eighteen-year-old Mikey McKenzie’s life is far from perfect. His mother is an alcoholic and he has two younger sisters, Karyn, 15, and Holly, 8, for whom he is responsible. He’s doing the best he can, but he’s all too aware that sometimes it’s just not good enough. Especially now. Karyn was recently raped while at a party and she now won’t leave the house. Mikey figures he can make everything right again if he beats the crap out of the guy who did it, Tom Parker. He and his best friend, Jacko, come up with a plan but everyone knows nothing ever goes to plan.

Sixteen-year-old Ellie Parker is every bit as anxious as her parents for her older brother Tom’s homecoming. He’s spent the last couple of weeks detained after having been accused of rape, but now he’s coming home to await the trial. Ellie’s her brother’s star witness; she was home the night Tom brought a bunch of friends back from the pub, Karyn included.  She’s already told the police that she didn’t hear or see anything much and her parents are convinced that Tom will be found not guilty.

And this might have been nothing more than a he said – she said YA novel except that Mikey and Ellie meet and discover…they like each other. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but once the wires are uncrossed and trust has been earned, Ellie and Mikey really do genuinely fall in love.

Downham does a good job of balancing the story of Ellie and Mikey  with everything else that’s going on including Ellie’s doubts about her brother’s innocence, Mikey’s concern for his sisters and frustration with his mother’s lack of responsibility. The novel moves pretty quickly, allowing the reader plenty of time with both Ellie and Mikey so we get a real sense of who they are and how they’re coping with their complicated circumstances. What started as one thing quickly becomes something else for both of them and as Mikey says to Jacko

When I first saw Ellie, I knew it was her – she was my fantasy. I didn’t want it to be true, but every time I met her it was obvious, and the funny thing was that she was better than the fantasy, like I got more stuff than I’d imagined.

You Against Me is about family and friendship and making choices that have far-reaching consequences. Downham offers careful readers lots to think about and has created two young people worth rooting for.


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