I’m a little late to the party here. I know people have been reading (and crying over) Me Before You for a couple of years now. In fact, I’d reached the point where I was hesitant to read it, simply because I’d heard from so many people about all the feels and all the tears caused by this book — and hype is pretty much the enemy of enjoying books, in my opinion.
But thanks to my book group, I finally buckled down to read Me Before You this week… and despite the choked up feeling in the back of my throat that still hasn’t gone away, I’m glad that I did.
Me Before You tells the story of two people who would never have met, had life gone the way they’d expected. Despite coming from the same small town, Louisa and Will could not be more different. Lou grew up in a working class family, where every bit of income matters, and where her super-smart sister was expected to be the first in the family to attend college, until she dropped out to have a baby. Will Traynor is the son of a wealthy family, accustomed to grabbing life and enjoying every moment, whether via corporate takeovers or extreme sports. The only way these two would have met would have been in some cafe, with Lou serving and Will barely looking up to notice the waitress standing by his table.
Yet life can change in an instant. Lou is informed by the owner of the cafe where she’s worked for years that he’s shutting the doors due to a slump in business, and Lou desperately seeks a new job, knowing that her parents count on her pay to keep the household running. But there’s nothing available for a 27-year-old with little education and few skills, other than a job in a chicken plant or working as a pole dancer. Finally, one more opportunity is presented, working as a carer for a quadriplegic. Despite having no relevant experience, Lou is hired to provide companionship and distraction — and meets Will, whose normal life was snatched away from him two years earlier on a rainy day in London in a freak motorcycle accident.
Will is mean, sarcastic, sullen, and withdrawn, and wants to be left alone. Lou is petrified that she’ll screw up, worried that she’ll lose the only decent-paying job she was able to find, and intimidated both by the wealthy Traynor family and by the silent man in the wheelchair who most emphatically does not seem to want her around. But bit by bit, Louisa, with her wildly colored clothes and ability to say just the wrong thing, starts to crack Will’s shell. She actually makes him laugh, and Will for his part seems to see Lou as a challenge: He’s determined that this small-town girl who’s never gone anywhere or done anything should try new things and expand her horizons. But Lou has set herself a challenge as well: To make Will realize that his life isn’t over, and that there’s still joy and hope for him in this world.
As we (and Louisa) discover early on, there’s a reason that Lou was only hired for a six-month assignment: Will has decided to die via Dignitas, a Swiss clinic offering assisted suicide services. He’s promised his parents to give them six months before proceeding, and in desperation, Will’s mother has hired Lou, hoping that her awkward yet charming demeanor and colorful personality will pull Will out of his despair the way the love of his family hasn’t been able to.
I won’t discuss the plot any further, but suffice it to say, it’s a doozy. It’s not all drama and tears, though. Louisa and Will are both smart and funny, and their interludes are full of laughter and awkward, silly moments. Lou is determined to make Will want to live, and plans a series of misbegotten outings, most of which end in disaster. Will, for his part, forces Lou to spread her wings, through little moments like watching her first subtitled movies or going to the symphony, ordering books from Amazon for her to read, or forcing her to read the newspaper every day so she can debate current issues with him.
Will’s parents are not the most sympathetic people in the world, but I couldn’t help feeling their pain, and while they seem cold and stand-offish at first, through Lou’s eyes we come to see the nightmare of these people who so desperately want to help their son. There are other memorable and wonderful supporting characters, especially Will’s nurse Nathan and Lou’s sister Treena. Lou’s clueless and self-centered boyfriend Patrick, who is so obsessed with triathlons and his fitness routine that he doesn’t see Lou’s needs or feelings, is a comically obnoxious yet cleverly written character. Lou’s parents, who come to play an important role as she makes more dramatic decisions about her intentions toward Will, are equally impressive, as the author portrays them with a convincing sense of heart and history.
But ultimately, this is the story of Lou and Will — how they change each other, and whether they can challenge each other to think differently, and perhaps to feel in new and unexpected ways. A few times, I was sure I knew exactly where this story was going, and yet I ended up surprised by the dramatic developments, the emotional depth, and the final twists of the story.
Because I’d been warned over and over again that I’d cry, naturally, I didn’t. But I did find it a little tough to breathe or talk by the time I got to the last 100 pages or so… and if I hadn’t been told so emphatically to expect tears, then I probably would have ended up a big, soggy mess.
Jojo Moyes is a gifted writer who has a beautiful way with words. She takes ordinary people and conveys the beauty and sadness of their lives and relationships. In all of the books by this author that I’ve read so far, I’ve seen gorgeously drawn love stories, evocative romances, and edge-of-your-seat suspense and dilemmas. The characters in her books feel like real people, and the skill with which she draws us in and makes us care is remarkable.
I’ve read a total of four books by Jojo Moyes by this point, and I’m eager both to explore her earlier works and to read anything new that she writes from this point forward. Meanwhile, my only complaint is that my book group discussion doesn’t start for several more days, and I just can’t wait to talk about Me Before You!
Title: Me Before You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/ Viking
Publication date: December 31, 2012
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction