Dinnisson, Kris. You and Me and Him. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers. 288 pages. $17.99
When high school student Maggie started her junior year at Cedar Ridge High School, she thought it was going to be more of the same. Same friendship with her best gay friend and fellow outcast Nash, same job at the vinyl record store, and the same invisibility from the “popular” clique. But when new student Tom joins her group, her world is pushed askew. And even though Nash called dibs on crushing on Tom, the overly nice, overly flirty new kid keeps getting closer to Maggie. Now she has to choose what’s more important: a decade long friendship, or the (very cute) new boy? Between that, the sudden friendship of a backstabbing popular girl, a PE teacher that hates her, and an overprotective mother, Maggie’s life is full to breaking.
Kris Dinnison’s You and Me and Him has a number of strong points going for it. The main character Maggie is a force of nature. She’s alternative, she can bake like a madwoman, she has a fierce loyalty to her friends, she has great and deep appreciation for music (very reminiscent of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children), and she manages to seem alternative and different while still being conscious that she lives in the real world. She has a weight issue that she is conscious of but doesn’t let rule her life and parent issues that don’t block out the sun. In short, she comes across as believable and cool even if the popular kids don’t see it. The kind of girl that we would all want to know in high school.
The story is ostensibly a love story, but not really. The central plot revolves around a love triangle of unrequited crushes and “is he gay or he isn’t he” between Maggie, Nash, and Tom. But the story really seems to be more about Maggie figuring out how to grow up a little and get the things she wants out of life without everybody pushing her around and deciding things for her. While Maggie is a peacemaker and “good friend” for much of the novel, by the end, she starts to take a stand for what she really wants.
If anything, I have to ding Dinnison for a few lazy plotting choices. The cute, new, friendly boy that moves in from out-of-town is a worn trope for introducing something new into a character’s life. Also, the choice to make the popular girl gossipy, mean, and duplicitous has been done before. And while many readers will remember Mean Girls’s Regina George fondly, You and Me and Him’s Kayla doesn’t even come close in life ruining skills.
Overall, this is a fast-paced book with a light heart that maintains a fine balance between humor and pathos. While it touches on subjects of body image concerns, family troubles, loneliness, and isolation, Dinnison never lets it stay there too long before a pithy one-liner comes out of someone’s mouth. Readers will want to get to know these students. They’re fun to hang out with, and they have great taste in music.
This book is intended for young adult audiences, and it comes highly recommended for both the young and the young at heart. It even made this grouchy reviewer tear up at one point, so it’s a story that has potential to hit you in the feels.
John Mack Freeman