After You is the sequel to the author’s huge bestseller, Me Before You. I don’t think I can talk about After You without referring to the events of the first book.
So — fair warning. IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO SEE SPOILERS FOR ME BEFORE YOU, DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW!
Walk away now.
You’ve been warned.
… end of psychotic spoiler warnings…
Moving on –
After You picks up the story of Louisa Clark two years after the tragic events which conclude Me Before You. In Me Before You, Louisa takes a job as a caregiver/companion to a quadriplegic man named Will Traynor, basically for the sake of a steady paycheck. Will is an angry young man, stuck in a wheelchair after a devastating accident, and he initially treats Louisa abominably.
Eventually, the two crack each others’ tough shells. Will delights in teaching Louisa about life outside the confines of her small town and in showing her how smart and talented she really can be. Louisa is horrified to learn that Will intends to take his own life rather than continue to live as a quadriplegic, and makes it her mission to convince him that life can still be wonderful. The two fall in love — but sadly, it’s just not enough to keep Will from the path he’s determined to take.
(See, I said there’d be spoilers.)
Two years later, Louisa is aimless, sad, and just going through the motions. Thanks to a bequest from Will, she traveled all across Europe, but came home when she realized it all meant nothing to her. Now she lives in a flat in London (also thanks to Will’s generosity), attends a grief support group, and works in a depressingly awful Irish-themed bar (complete with a ringlet-y wig) at the airport.
Louisa’s life takes a surprising turn when one night, in a drunken funk, she slips off the roof of her building, surviving the fall with broken bones and other injuries, none permanent. Two unexpected people enter Louisa’s life due to the fall — a hunky paramedic named Sam and a difficult, prickly teen girl named Lily… who announces to Louisa that she’s Will’s daughter.
Turns out that Will’s college girlfriend never told him she was pregnant, so he never had the chance to be a part of Lily’s life. Would Will have made different decisions if he knew about Lily?
Louisa takes Lily under her wing out of love for Will, both wanting to protect her for Will’s sake and, for her own sake, to hold onto the last little bit of Will left in the world. Lily’s entry into Louisa’s tightly controlled, dull, unfulfilling life basically rocks her world, and changes begin, slowly at first, until Louisa’s outlook and future are completely transformed.
Okay, enough synopsis. That’s the gist of After You. The real question readers will want to have answered is: Does After You live up to Me Before You?
In my opinion, the answer is yes… but adjust your expectations.
After You is a much quieter book than Me Before You. Me Before You was intensely dramatic, with life and death on the line, passionate love with everything at stake, and characters in absolutely extreme circumstances. I don’t know anyone who walked away from Me Before You with dry eyes.
After You is not that book. Instead, it’s thoughtful and serious, examining the life that’s left after the drama and tragedy have already gone by. Will’s dying wish was for Louisa to go out and live life to the fullest, and she really did try. But as we see in After You, the intention isn’t enough. Louisa took off for Paris to escape her grief, but life and grieving don’t work that way. She carried the pain with her wherever she went, so eventually there was no point in continuing to run.
What we see in After You is what loneliness and sorrow look like. There’s nothing sexy or glamorous about it. Louisa is living a very sad life when we first meet her in this book, and her lack of hope and disconnect from anyone who might actually care about her is distressing to see. And yet, I felt like it was all so real. Grief takes time. There’s no magic cure. Even meeting someone new doesn’t fix everything. It was so sad to see vibrant, rambunctious Louisa dressed in dull grey clothing and going through the motions, day after day.
Just as Louisa’s life picks up when Lily and Sam make their entrances, so too the tone of the novel picks up as well. The energy of the narrative reflects the slow return to life and purpose that Louisa goes through, building up steam and gaining more ups and downs, breaking out of the sad sameness of a depressed existence.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Jojo Moyes’s books. I’m happy to find that After You is quite as good as some of her strongest works. It won’t “wow” people the way Me Before You did, but it does carry true emotion within its pages. This is the story of picking up the pieces, and that’s never going to be as stunning as the story of how the pieces broke in the first place (if that makes any sense).
People responded very, very strongly to Me Before You, and rightly so. Many readers cherished the idea of Louisa’s life being enriched by her short time with Will and being able to imagine her going on from there to having a life full of amazing experiences. For some, the realities of Louisa’s life in After You will be a letdown, bursting the bubble of a tragically romantic illusion. Before reading After You, I probably would have had the same vision of Louisa’s life, but I’m so pleased that After You set me straight.
Grief isn’t easy. Money and adventure can’t fix it. Recovery takes time, and a lost love can never be forgotten or replaced. In After You, Louisa gets the time to grieve, to rediscover her inner self and strength, and to finally start moving forward again. I’m so glad that I read this lovely book.
After reading After You, I felt such a strong connection to Louisa and to Lily, and I walked away feeling good, knowing that they’d found not only each other, but also a path pointing the way toward future happiness and hope.
Title: After You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: September 29, 2015
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction