Since we can’t possibly make every book we’re interested in an official Book Club Selection, we’re starting a new category called Editor’s Picks. While Books We Adore will feature recommendations for older books we want to rave about, Editor’s Picks will highlight new books we think are worth reading right this minute.
“You Against Me” by Jenny Downham
Release Date: Sept. 13, 2011, 416 pages
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 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.
Jenny Downham’s prose is beautiful and heartbreaking. Her first novel “Before I Die” (about a teenager with leukemia who wants to do everything on her bucket list before the inevitable happens) is the sort of book that stays with you forever, and every time I think of it, I’m floored with a sense of grief and loss. So I had ridiculously high hopes for “You Against Me,” and miraculously Downham did not disappoint.
Saying I couldn’t put it down is an understatement, because there are tons of books I can’t wait to read through, but following the story of Mikey and Ellie felt like an immediate need. I had to know if the instant connection they make is sustainable under their extraordinary circumstances. Could these two teens from different worlds (she’s posh, he’s an Estate — that’s British shorthand for public housing — dweller) and with different personalities (she’s an insecure, inexperienced introvert, he’s a handsome charmer who’s had his fair share of girls) find the kind of love that is real?
Admittedly, parts of the book felt a bit like watching “Law & Order UK.” Mikey’s sister and Ellie’s brother are involved in a she-said/he-said case of sexual assault, and it’s obvious one side is lying. Either Mikey’s sister really is a slutty 15-year-old with a bad case of morning-after remorse, or Ellie’s brother is a rapist. The tension between Mikey and Ellie’s feelings for each other versus their obligations to their family is inescapable. There will be no winners in this situation, even if Mikey and Ellie do manage to give into their intense attraction for each other.
You won’t cry buckets of tears over “You Against Me,” but you will feel emotionally invested in Mikey and Ellie’s relationship. I’m fascinated with England’s class obsessions, so that yet another reason I was so drawn to this story. I absolutely adored how Mikey and Ellie get to know each other over long walks and talks and how they can’t seem to stop themselves from reaching out to each other, despite all the odds stacked against them.
They looked like a couple of criminals. It was funny. They were blazing with it, both of them jittery as they got on the bus. They sat at the back. It was quiet, too cold and wet for day trippers. Their knees touched. Mikey wondered what that meant, if Ellie even realized. He leaned in closer. She smelled of vanilla and rain.
He looked like he was sinking, like he couldn’t help himself as he reached to kiss her again. It made her want to laugh out loud. She did this to him. She did. Ellie Parker. Never, ever had she dreamed she could feel so alive.
It was stupid. How could two people really like each other and not be allowed to be together? Why not? Why couldn’t they?
A hardcover review copy of this book was provided by Random House.