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When Good Authors Go Bad

Ok, I confess: the title of this post is mostly clickbait. I’m too much of a libra (and librarian) to be able to call these books anything as absolute as “bad.” The less clickbait, more classic title could be: In which the reader is disappointed in not one but two four-star books, by authors she has previously loved, and is left wondering if the fault is hers or the authors’.

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Date Rape, Siblings, and the New Problem Novel

You Against Me is a fine novel, in the non-pejorative sense of fine. It is finely detailed, even nuanced, story about family and what happens when bad things derail the complacency and blindness of a family.

It’s also the second book I’ve read in 2011 alone in which a sibling response to an alleged date rape is a central component: back in February, verse novel Exposed by Kimberly Marcus hit the stands.

Exposed hasn’t been mentioned over here before, although it too is a fine novel, this time admittedly in the damning with faint praise sense. It did quite well in my library, because it’s short and tight and while it has nothing hugely remarkable to recommend itself, it does what it sets out to do very well. Because really, what it is is a problem novel. Like Ellen Hopkins’s books, or Sarah Dessen’s, or Patty McCormick’s, it provides palatable (not sweetened) access to a difficult subject, and it’s fairly straightforward (verse format notwithstanding.)

You Against Me covers much of the same territory, except that in addition to the rapist’s sister, we also get the victim’s brother, a double whammy treatise on masculinity, and a star-crossed love (between the two siblings). And I found myself thinking that this seemed like trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. In many ways, this passes as a silk purse. Downham has an astounding ear for dialogue (caveat: I speak American, the characters speak English. So it might play differently across the pond). She has a deft touch with her examination of gender and class. But in the end, it read a little too much like a problem novel gussied up, and I’m not sure that dressing up is enough to make this stand out in the year. [Read more…]