Published by Harper Teen!
Audrey Spencer doesn’t know it yet, but she’s been piecing her life together through her photographs. There’s her gorgeous, spiky best friend, Rose. Click. Her dreamy, steady musician boyfriend, Julian. Click. And her incredible and talented adoptive mother, Laura, who Audrey loves just as hard with or without shared DNA. Click And then, of course, there’s the rest of the girls. Maria, Jen and new girl Olivia. Click, click, click. As long as they stick together, everything is fine. Audrey even plans to pursue top art schools. However, when the events of 17 years ago start to repeat themselves, Audrey must make a number of difficult decisions. Does she want to keep the baby? Can Julian and her get through this in one piece? And does she want to read the letter her birth mother, Mandy, recently wrote her?
From electrically vivid characters to words that seem to drip off the page, ‘You Don’t Know Me But I Know You’ is that book that comes completely out of left field without warning and sucker punches you. As Rebecca Barrow’s debut I can do nothing but take my hypothetical hat off to her. Tackling the issue of teenage pregnancy, juggling pro choice and pro life arguments, was so classily done amidst the authentic portrayal of the most gruelling stages of adolescence; questioning college, who you really are, as well as the potential ticking time bomb of your relationship and/or friendships in equal measure. This book is a testament to Rebecca Barrow as a storyteller and an ode to teenagers and the hundreds of times they’re misunderstood, misrepresented and harshly judged.
To say Barrow threw herself in the deep end with this one would be an understatement. Not only does Audrey fall pregnant within the first couple of chapters of the book, she is also adopted. But both these important elements of the book are dealt with with such grace, tact and respect. Audrey and Julian and the way in which they deal with the news and how they tackle it felt so honest and heartwarming. Throughout the book, there’s no point in which you are one hundred percent certain of the choice they will make. They maturely weigh up the odds, considering each alternative future. As a couple, they were charming and without teenage melodrama. Their sniping was endearing and it felt refreshing to me to see a couple work together rather than tear each other apart, even in the face of something that does and can put quite a lot of pressure and strain on relationships.
Similarly, the relationship between Audrey and her adoptive mother Laura felt like a shining light that never need go out. Often it feels like adoption is a last painful resort that ends in regret and resentment. But the mother-daughter relationship between Audrey and her mother was so strong and warm to read. It’s not shied away from and there are moments of conflict. But it felt like an important highlight to have, depicting one particular family unit as just as strong and closely woven as perhaps more traditional family set-ups. (Side note: Adam was also great. We’re definitely meant to fancy Adam as a bit of a hot dad, right?)
It also goes without saying how much I loved the girl group. They were such distinct characters with their individual defining traits. Even Maria and Jen, who we don’t see as much of, were so vivid in terms of the dynamic they brought to the group. Diversity was also of clear importance to the author in this book. We got a sense of the religious argument in terms of pregnancy from Jen and the strength and fieriness of Rose who dealt with the fallouts as a bisexual woman trying not to let prejudices get her down, or her rocky personal life. There was also, of course, lovely Olivia and Audrey, who is mixed race, our strong women of colour who I hope are figures people of colour will love as much as I did. (Of course, I can’t comment on this beyond my means, but they felt like great characters to see parts of yourself in.)
From Julian to Audrey and the girls, their characterisation was above and beyond. Although no longer a teen myself, I felt so uplifted by the depiction of these characters. They are smart young adults with ambition and talent. It was refreshing to see them taken seriously and not to have their levelheaded actions outshone by drama and, to be frank, regressive development. I loved this ensemble and the way in which they both complemented and caused friction in their interactions. They’re a pretty cool lot.
And now I have to summarise just how beautiful this book was. Yes, the plot was fantastic, the characters three-dimensional and moving. But how do I put into words how utterly fantastic the craft of words were? From the first page, the writing is vivid with just the right amount of grit. The dialogue was snappy and raw making the whole narration of the story fall out of the book and touch your ears in silky vibrations. ‘You Don’t Know Me But I Know You’ is the whole package, down to every last choice word.
Thank you to Harper Teen for this review copy!*
‘You Don’t Know Me But I Know You’ is out now!