British novelist Jenny Downham's first YA novel was the award-winning Before I Die (2007), a fictional account of the last few months of a 16-year-old who is dying from leukemia.
The Story: Karyn McKenzie, 15, and Tom Parker couldn't differ more: Karyn lives in poverty with her alcoholic mother, and Tom comes from a privileged family. After Karyn gets drunk at a party and goes home with Tom, she accuses him of rape. Devastated by the assault, she refuses to leave their flat; her 18-year-old brother Mikey, who works at a local pub, vows revenge--and goes in search of Tom. His quest leads him to Tom's sister Ellie, 16--and despite their dissimilar backgrounds, they are instantly smitten. But Ellie, the key witness to that fateful night, believes that Tom is innocent, and as the court date between Karyn and Tom approaches, Mikey and Ellie must choose between loyalty to their families and their love for each other.
David Fickling. 416 pages. $16.99. ISBN: 9780385751605
"It's a book mostly about love and loyalty, what choices you have to make to protect and support those who mean the most to you. ... The writing is as sharp and thoughtful as it was in her last book [Before I Die]. It certainly makes you think what you would do in such a difficult situation." Charlie
NY Times Book Review
"As the story builds to its tumultuous conclusion, Mikey and Ellie have to make the inevitable choice between new love and old allegiances. ... The hard question at the heart of this book--what would you do?--doesn't have a single answer. For her young readers, Downham frames it remarkably well." Emily Bazelon
"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."
"Rather than paint Tom as a horrible rapist, the story paints a stunning picture of the complexities of modern life, and what it takes just to make it through one day. The characters are believable and richly textured. All of them have their strengths and weaknesses, their good and bad points." Kathy
You Against Me replays, in YA form, the ill-fated Romeo-Juliet scenario--warring families, conflicted lovers, difficult decisions. Downham tells this age-old story from two points of view--Mikey's and Ellie's--which allows her to explore questions about consensual sex, rape, intoxication, love, loyalty, and class differences from different perspectives. All the critics were riveted by the absorbing plot, the British slang, and the flawed yet sympathetic characters, though the New York Times Book Review commented that the protagonist in Downham's previous novel, Before I Die, was more arresting. Above all, Downham successfully mines moral ambiguity and dark impulses. Not surprisingly, despite its YA label, her newest is not for the faint of heart.