Okay, so I've mentioned before that the subject matter in this book is sensitive, so don't come after me because I recommended it...I gave you a fair warning. With that said, this was the first book I read by the brilliant Jenny Downham, who is also the author of Before I Die. I've heard a lot about Before I Die, but haven't had the pleasure of picking it up, please don't come after me with pitchforks and fire. Here's the description of the story courtesy of Goodreads:
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.
Rape is a topic that most don't take lightly. The statistics around the world when it comes to the prosecution of rapists is disheartening, I feel very strongly that not enough is done to someone who commits this horrendous crime. I know women who have survived this traumatic and life changing act. Which is why I was hesitant to pick this up. But an author I really like recommended it and so I decided to give it a chance. I think Ms. Downnham did a great job of giving us a look into the lives of the people directly effected by the rape- the victim's family and the acussed's family. Most of the story is focused on the relationship blooming between Mikey and Ellie. The consequences of people discovering this budding friendship are high. You really get a good insight into Mikey's life. His little sister is the victim and he feels that it's his responsibility to get revenge against Ellie's brother.That's when Ellie comes into the picture, and suddenly he wants to be around her and get to know her, using her as an excuse in his plan for revenge.
Not only are these two characters facing opposing moral dilemmas, but they also come from the opposite sides of the track. Mikey is 18 and the provider for his family. The oldest of three, he must take care of his younger sisters as their mother deals (or doesn't) with her alcohol addiction. This puts even more pressure on Mikey to take care of his sister after the rape. On the other hand Ellie lives in big, fancy house, where all the materialistic things she needs are provided. Her parents even throw her brother a party after he posts bail! Yeah, I didn't get it either, I mean your son has been accused of rape, what's there to celebrate? But once you get to know the parents, especially the father (man did I want to punch this guy in the face on several occasions), you understand why they do the things they do. And even though Ellie has those materialistic things in her life, it doesn't mean that she gets the emotional support many teens need.
Ms. Downham does a good job of exploring that line of fact and fiction. What really happened the night of the rape? Did Mikey's sister make it up, or jump to conclusions? Did Ellie witness something in her brother that night she isn't willing to admit to herself? Slowly the pieces of the puzzle come together, and you get the whole story. You get pulled into the attraction and relationship between Mikey and Ellie, and even find yourself hoping that they can make it as they use each other to make sense of the chaotic mess in their own lives. One character that did surprise me in this story was Ellie's mom. At first I thought 'great, another mom who has no clue' but by the end I was grateful for the picture Ms. Downham drew, and expanded, with Ellie's mom. Another issue this book explores is the stigma that surrounds rape victims. The "she was asking for it" excuse, or labeling girls with names like 'slut' or 'whore'. It is completely unfair that a girl is called names for something such as this, while the guy is a hero. This needs to stop in society! And rape victims are NEVER asking for it, EVER. If this is a story you can handle, give it a read. I recommend it if you're trying to make sense of what someone might be going through after they've experienced this crime. I do know that women AND men should be more knowledgable of the reality that surrounds the every day world. These things are very real and take place ever day. We might not be able to stop it, but we can help others to survive it.
As a side-note I would like to say that I enjoyed the setting of this book. It takes place in England so they use a lot of the slang from that region, but I am familiar with it thanks to Marian Keyes, Jill Mansell, and Louise Rennison.