If someone hurts your sister and you’re any kind of man, you seek revenge, right? If your brother’s accused of a terrible crime but says he didn’t do it, you defend him, don’t you? When Mikey’s sister claims a boy assaulted her, his world begins to fall apart. When Ellie’s brother is charged with the offence, her world begins to unravel. When Mikey and Ellie meet, two worlds collide. This is a brave and unflinching novel from the bestselling author of “Before I Die”. It’s a book about loyalty and the choices that come with it. But above all it’s a book about love.
When I first read the synopsis of this book, I was instantly intrigued. It grabbed me as being a modern day Romeo and Juliet – forbidden love and families at war. A Shakespeare classic told with a modern twist and made appealing to the young adult audience of today. What I didn’t expect was how much more this book has to offer. I’ll say from the outset, that the subject matter is sensitive – some may even regard it as being taboo – but sadly it is something that does happen and Jenny Downham writes the events in a very real way that the target audience will understand.
Ellie’s brother, Tom, is accused of assaulting Mikey’s sister, Karyn. And that is the very heart of this story. What we read about is the fallout of the event in question, existing relationships that suffer as a result, and the new relationships that are forged as time progresses. The story is told in third person but concentrates on the characters of Mikey and Ellie, and what I particularly like is the contrast between the two characters as their parts of the story is told. There is a visible difference in the style of writing and the descriptions used, as we explore each of them in depth as the chapters progress; and that just brings you, as the reader, closer to the two main characters in this story.
Mikey and his family are what you may consider to be lower class, living on an estate in a not so nice part of town.
Ellie on the other hand, has had a good family upbringing, lives in a nice house and seemingly has everything that could ever wish for. Except for the fact that appearances can be deceptive.
The publishers of this book pitch this story as a book about love. I would go one step further than that and say it’s a book about love and relationships, both romantic and within families. It’s about truth and lies. It’s about the wicked webs that are weaved which only lead to deceive. Whereas Mikey’s family is relatively close knit, Ellie’s family is falling apart, something made apparent in various passages throughout the book, and especially with the line “Parents don’t know their children at all“, a thought Ellie has when it transpires that Tom’s court case is far bigger than anyone could imagine. Where Mikey is the backbone holding his family together, Ellie is balancing precariously watching hers fall apart.
Of course, this book is not only about forbidden love, it also has a very serious subject matter that is present throughout. The question of whether Tom is guilty or whether Karyn is lying is something you, as the reader, will need to find out for yourself.
Above all, Jenny Downham has approached the subject of sexual assualt, together with that of first loves and relationships sympathetically and beautifully. You can’t help but feel an affinity with both Mikey and Ellie despite the predicaments that they find themselves in.
I would definitely recommend this book to all, and I will certainly be checking out the other titles that Jenny has to offer.