Book Review: You Against Me by Jenny Downham

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I had this book sitting on my self for quite some time. And every time I saw it’s cover, I imagined it to be the trite love story which uses rape as a mere tool for the lead pair to come closer. Yes, I ignored the very enticing summary on the back page because in the recent months I have become cynical towards books which claim to be “different” but are rife with terribly over-used cliches. So naturally I kept You Against Me at a healthy distance away from myself, saving it for a time when my head would be depressed enough to not snarl in frustration at it. Well, as luck would have it, it turns out I wasn’t doing any favors to myself by keeping away from it. It wasn’t even remotely what I would call a “healthy” distance.

You Against Me by Jenny Downham is essentially the story of Ellie and Mikey wherein the former’s brother rapes the latter’s sister. How they fall in love and deal with the aforementioned issue forms the crux of the story.

The customary approach to address the issue of sexual assault has been to bring forth the incident through the eyes of the victim. That gives more intensity and power to the situation. But You Against Me takes a different line. The narration is through the point of view of the families of the victim and the perpetrator. How it is for the people at the fringes of the situation. Their blind faith and the instinct to protect their own. While Mikey wants to exact revenge on the boy who molested his sister, Ellie remains loyal to her brother and believes his version of the events without question.

The route taken by the author is chancy. But she handles it with perfection. Her characters are not exactly likeable and therein lies her excellence. Their shortcomings are believable, be it Mikey’s philandering ways or ELlie’s refusal to even consider listening to Karyn’s side of the story or her slut shaming tendencies. Downham’s prowess is such that there are times when you find yourself feeling a wee sorry for the accused.

The love story of the two main characters made for the weaker point of the book. Not in concept but in depiction. The reasons for their intense attraction are vague. The events that lead up to them falling for each other are unsatisfactory.

The mystery as regards the real events of the fateful night is gripping. An excellent depiction of the anger, confusion, anguish it is a must read for everyone. Because it is not just some star-crossed love story but a realistic and spot on depiction of rape and slut shaming.

4 Stars

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