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Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

I have to tell you, I’ve been avoiding emotional books lately.  After two months of dealing with my own life tragedies, the idea of reading about other people’s—even fictional ones—has felt like torture to me.  So I’m not quite sure what possessed me to pick up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  I’m not sure that I can say I’m glad I did.  What I can say is that Me Before You is a beautiful book, and that sometimes it’s the harder-to-read books that are the ones that stick with you the longest.

The book description, courtesy of Amazon:

They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

One of the first things I noticed about this book was that Moyes has done her homework about quadriplegia, and she does not shy away from the realities of Will’s condition, both medically and emotionally.  One of the most disconcerting scenes in the book is when Lou begins her job as his companion and his medical caregiver briefs her about Will’s day-to-day needs and Louisa sees the bottles upon bottles of pills and medical assistance devices that comprise Will’s life.  

But it doesn’t take long for the reader to see Will as more than just a collection of medical needs.  He’s acerbic, pompous, frustrating…and more compassionate than he initially seems beneath his prickly exterior.  As Lou settles in to her position, they come to care deeply about one another.

Will’s life before his accident was very big.  Lou’s, in contrast, is very small. She’s poor, has no ambition, and she can’t imagine a life going any farther than a few miles from her small town.  Will makes it his mission to awaken Lou to the possibilities of life.  Lou experienced a traumatic event some years earlier than made her fearful of the outside world, and one of the most touching scenes in the novel is when she finally confesses what happened to Will.

The growth of the relationship between these two feels organic.  Somehow, these two people from two drastically different worlds connect to each other in a way no one else could.

Moyes explores the idea of right-to-die and assisted suicide.  But one of the things I liked about this novel is that it’s not preachy, and it doesn’t push a point of view on you.  Moyes doesn’t use Will as a stand-in for all the severely ill or disabled people in the world.  Instead, Will is just Will, and his situation and circumstances are unique to him.  I left the novel feeling like I didn’t have a clearer feeling about the ethicalness of these issues than when I went in.  And maybe that’s a good thing.  I feel like the American media—and the American public—has the tendency to turn this into a more black-and-white issue than it really is.  (The book is set primarily in the UK.  I don’t think a book like this could take place in the United States, to be honest.)

The novel is narrated mostly in first person by Lou.  However, other characters—including Will’s parents, Will’s primary caregiver, and Lou’s sister—have chapters interspersed throughout.  The alternate POV chapters felt jarring to me, and it was only when I started reading some of the Amazon comments about the book that I realized why: the only major character who doesn’t seem to have a chapter is Will himself.  It kind of makes sense: Will complains that he has had no control over his life since the accident, and the book focuses more on how Will’s injury and subsequent decisions affect the people around him.  But the lack still felt disconcerting to me.  We have an entire book of people talking about Will, rather than Will—an incredibly intelligent, articulate character—speaking for himself.

Still, this is a book that grabbed hold of me and won’t let go.  It’s definitely not for people looking for a conventional romance (or for people looking for a happy book).  But if you’re looking for something emotional, something that feels real, this one may be for you.