Tuesday, October 27, 2015

You Against Me » Review

‘Do you know what Gillian told me?’ she hissed. ‘She told me it’s not my fault. She said I should be able to wear a short skirt whenever I like. She said I should be able to go to a party in my bloody bikini if I want. I should be able to dance and drink and stay up late. I should even be allowed to snog the face off Tom Parker and it doesn’t mean he can do what he did.’

You Against Me is one of my favorite books. I suppose you could say it's an "issue book," but unlike many authors of that genre who bludgeon us over the head with a message or lesson or viewpoint, Downham does an amazing job at integrating a common news item into a fully fleshed story.

Is this book a romance? It is very romantic, but the book isn't devoted to telling a love story. Just as much attention is given to family dynamics, coming of age, and social issues in equal measure. You Against Me is impeccably balanced amongst all these things.

The style of writing is quite plain and uses a lot of British vernacular, but the prose is lyrical all the same. Downham points out the beauty in the mundane in a way that is very alluring. In fact, the book has an almost dreamy tone to it, only to be sharply brought into focus at times, to great effect. In my literature classes in college, we talked a great deal about how style should be a mirror of thematic issues. Downham nails it.
She treated her body as if it was really special. He’d noticed it at the river and again today – how she kept changing the position of a strap or pulling buttons shut or yanking her dress lower so he couldn’t see bits of her. It was like she had something hidden and if you got in there, you’d be really privileged. It made him think of that line in the Spider-Man movie about power and responsibility. It was doing his head in.

Another thing I love about the book is how fair it is. Every side to an issue is treated with respect. Take the two quotations I shared. In one, a character defends her right to wear whatever she likes. She celebrates bodily autonomy. In the other, Mikey notes the power of keeping things hidden. Each viewpoint is given merit.

I love this book. Not only is an engrossing read, but it's carefully crafted and stylistically complex. I cannot recommend it enough.

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