Recommendation: Me Before You

Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes

“ …I told him a story of two people. Two people who shouldn’t have met, and who didn’t like each other much when they did, but who found they were the only two people in the world who could possibly have understood each other. ”

Sometimes I wonder how publishing houses feel when they give a hard pass to a book and it ends up becoming a national bestseller. Do they have regrets? Is it just a drop in the bucket? Does it even bother them at all, considering how many novels are pushed out each year by countless houses? Does someone get fired? Yelled at? It intrigues me.

Jojo Moyes wrote Me Before You in 2012, after a multitude of other novels that garnered reasonably good numbers and critical acclaim, as well as a few awards. Previously a journalist of more than a decade, she decided that full-time novel writing was her future. But when she brought Me Before You to her longstanding publishing house, they passed, and so she moved along and sold the book elsewhere. Subsequently, the romance novel featuring a quirky girl in bumblebee tights  and a wheelchair-bound boy with hair that’s too long sold over six-million copies in countless countries and ended up in Hollywood as a film starring two impossibly good looking actors.

Makes you wonder, right?

I’ve read a lot of romance novels. I’ve read the quickly turned-around and recycled babble of Harlequin authors. I’ve read the slightly more scandalous authors like Lori Foster and Patti Berg. I’ve read 50 Shades.  I’ve read historical romance, contemporary romance, sci-fi romance, teen romance. I just like to read, so no genre or author is off limits (unless you ask me to read Ayn Rand. That’s a hard no). But even with all of my reading, I still found Me Before You unique.

If I had to compare this book to work by another author, I would say it is most like a Nicholas Sparks novel. But even then, it’s not. Nicholas Sparks always ends up killing off the characters we fall in love with in some tragic, heart wrenching way that can almost always be avoided. I think Sparks needs some serious therapy, and maybe needs to buy a puppy or something. He seems very unhappy. He just can’t let his characters have a happy ending. The Notebook? Okay, I’ll give him that one. But I have literally stopped reading so many of his books because I could see what was happening. . . the main character was going to die, after falling in love, and then you know, his heart will be cut from his chest and go to save his teenage love’s son or something. Me Before You is kind of like that, but also so unique that it’s difficult to compare it to anything else. There is such an undercurrent of humor and sweetness, and even though you know what is going to happen – there is just no getting around it – you are okay with it. Yes, you cry, but you are okay. What happened needed to happen. And you can enjoy the book for what it is, not feeling ripped off as you finish the final pages and find everyone dead – either literally or just on the inside.

Louisa Clark doesn’t have it easy, but you won’t hear her complain. She comes from solid stock, and they all stick together.

The cafe she has spent years working in is closing up shop, and the loss  finds her at the doorstep of the Traynor residence, anxiously pushing through an interview for a job that she doesn’t really want – but needs. She has a family to help support and the Clark’s are all in it together. Being a caretaker is very low on her list of dream jobs, but it’s better than the other prospects, and so she accepts the offer and is grateful for the adequate pay.

But when she meets Will, her moody, strange, and sometimes downright insufferable ward, Louisa’s mind starts to backtrack. She is usually so adept at maintaining the pep in her step and has a positive attitude that is beyond reproach, and Will’s bad temper is starting to rub off on her. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like him. But she does need the steady work.

Will was a larger than life personality before a freak motorcycle accident took his body. He is now a shell of his former self, passing his time with a cynical attitude and plenty of music and film. He’s not much of a people person anymore, being not only bound to a wheelchair but also in the unusual space of being rather vulnerable emotionally. As a quadriplegic, he is completely dependent on other people for every single aspect of his bodily life. He in turn, finds the entire situation depressing and humiliating, leaving him full of enmity towards everyone and everything.

At first, Louisa’s bubbly persona only seems to irritate Will further and she finds herself questioning her abilities for helping him. He has a physical therapist who does the majority of the grunt work, and she knows she is there mainly to lift Will’s spirits and provide him with quiet companionship. But after she overhears his parents discussing Will’s plans to end his life in six month’s time, she becomes determined to change the inevitable outcome. She reaches into the depths of her resolve and patience, and vows to make Will’s life better and a as full as she can.

“ ‘Just hold on. Just for a minute.”
“Are you all right ?”
I found my gaze dropping towards his chair, afraid some part of him was pinched, or trapped, that I had got something wrong.

“I’m fine. I just…I don’t want to go in just yet. I just want to sit and not have to think about. . .I just. . .want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more. . .’ “

She has some bumps along the way, mostly due to her inexperience with Will’s lifestyle in the wheelchair, but the pair find themselves growing closer. They take in a concert together, they watch horse races, and they attend a wedding. They slowly and organically find themselves confiding in each other, and Louisa learns all about how big Will’s life was before his accident. She listens with rapt attention as he describes places like Paris and the outrageous hobbies he used to have when he had control of his body. She has always lived in a very small world, feeling the burden of her family on her shoulders, and Will encourages her to get out and take risks. Louisa finds herself questioning her longterm relationship with her boyfriend, Patrick, as she begins to see him through new eyes – she sees how superficial and shallow he is, compared to the depth and thoughtfulness of Will’s attentions. Louisa sees more and more how hard it is for Will to sustain life. He is easily fatigued and susceptible to illness, and his frustrations at not being able to do the most simplest things (like button his own shirt or hold a woman he is kissing) breed sadness in her.

“ ‘You cut yourself off from all sorts of experiences because you tell yourself you are ‘not that sort of person.”
“But, I’m not.”
“How do you know? You’ve done nothing, been nowhere. How do you have the faintest idea what kind of person you are?’ “

Despite the hiccoughs in their relationship, of course, the inevitable happens. . . Louisa begins to fall in love. She doesn’t even seem to realize it’s happening until it’s too late and she can’t stop it. Will has already been there, just waiting for her and her feelings to catch up, but he’d never say a word because he doesn’t want her to live her life for him. He wants Louisa to live her life for her – for once.

“ I realized I was afraid of living without him.

How is it you have the right to destroy my life, I wanted to demand of him, but I’m not allowed a say in yours?
But I had promised. ”

Me Before You is a novel that will make you cry, so be prepared. But I promise it will be bittersweet tears. Will and Louisa couldn’t possibly spend an entire lifetime together, but the time they do have is special beyond measure.

I give this book 4.5. out of 5 stars, and I recommend reading the last quarter of it in private. You can read the rest of it by the pool once the sun finally comes out and we sail into summer, but leave the rest for when you are alone and can ugly cry in peace. It also has a sequel, Me After You, and the movie is a beautifully scripted adaptation that follows very closely to the novel.

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