You Against Me
By Jenny Downham
My Rating: 4 Stars
This is one of those books that looks so unassuming. You’d never guess what a treasure it is. I found this book when reviewing books to remove from the collection at my library. A rental book, that had not circulated in a while, I read the cover and was intrigued. As often happens when I consider books for removal, I moved it to a pile of books I wanted to checkout. It sounds strange, but I don’t get much time to actually look for books in our collection. If I have time, I’ll add books to my to-read list when I selected them to order for the library, but once my step is done in the acquisition process, I rarely see a book unless it actually arrives in my hand either through a delete list or at the Circulation desk. That is what happened here and I’m so glad it did.
When Mikey McKenzie’s younger sister Karyn, accuses Tom Parker of raping her, he sets out to make Tom Parker pay. According to Karyn, Tom’s younger sister Ellie was home that night and she knows the truth. Mikey decides he needs to get to Ellie and get the truth from her any way he can. What he doesn’t expect is to truly get close to Ellie. In her, he finds something special. Torn between the sister he’s supposed to protect and the girl that has found her way into his heart, Mikey treads a dangerous line. He knows that if the two sides of his life should ever overlap it would be disastrous for everyone.
Ellie Parker, feels like a prisoner in her own home. She knows Karen and has to go to school with her. But she’s supposed to side with her brother because he’s family. But there is a feeling she can’t seem to shake. A feeling, if brought to light could change everything for Tom. For Ellie to cast doubt would tear her family apart. Feeling like she is the subject of everyone’s conversations, Ellie wants nothing more than to just be part of the crowd. She doesn’t want to stick out and she doesn’t want people looking at her the way they are everywhere she goes. She wants life to be simple and she wants to blend.
When Ellie meets Mikey, she’s suspicious but not for the reasons she should be. But there is something about him that’s different and she can’t stay away. When Mikey becomes an unexpected companion in her darkest times, Ellie finds herself being pulled toward him. He’s everything she’s been wanting. He doesn’t judge her because of her brother. She can laugh and relax with Mikey like she can’t with anyone else. Ellie ends up getting close to Mikey but she doesn’t know that Mikey is holding something back about himself that could affect how she feels about him. As Mikey and Ellie’s lives entwine more and more, their lives outside of each other begin to implode and soon all that’s been hidden will be brought to the light.
You Against Me is a deeply moving tale of four young people’s lives who are forever changed after one night of bad decisions. It’s a testament to what it means to support blindly those you call family because of a shared bloodline vs those you consider family because your heart recognizes them as such. What do you do when the two are at odds with the other. Whose side are you supposed to take? Are you obligated to one over the other? These are the questions Mikey and Ellie must face and ultimately must confront for their own happiness and sanity.
With You Against Me, Downham has created a story that slowly builds in tension, urgency and need. The climactic conclusion will leave you aching for everyone involved. Each character in this book is forced to look at themselves and see who they truly are. Once they have done that, they must face what they have done, who they have done it too and and then determine who truly means something to them. They must face their actions head on and accept what they have done despite what is right and wrong. They discover that sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest choice they’ll ever make but it will make them stronger in the end.
Before I found You Against Me, I wasn’t familiar with Jenny Downham as an author. When I added it to my to-read list on Goodreads I saw that she had written another book for which she had won awards. I was not familiar with that book either but I find her writing to be both interesting, honest, deep and real. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.