Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Genre: literature; romance; chick lit
Thanks to edelweiss for the preview
Get ready, kids, because I am about to gush.
The short version: I really liked this book. Really, really liked it. It isn't without its flaws, but it's just so good!
Okay, now the long version.
Life hasn't been all that grand for Louisa Clark. It hasn't been terrible, necessarily, but it has left her wanting. She eschewed university to work in such glorious jobs as a coffee shop attendant, and her boyfriend - well, the boyfriend is more obsessed with his marathon techniques than being a boyfriend. Her parents struggle financially, her older sister is a selfish single mother, and her grandfather has Alzheimer's.
So when an opportunity comes for Lou to work as a caretaker for Will Traynor, she takes it, even if she has no idea how to take care of a quadriplegic. For his part, Will struggles with being a quadriplegic. He used to scale mountains (and get scaled by comely lasses ... if you know what I mean ... wink wink), and he was a powerful force professionally. Everything he valued and cherished evaporated in the seconds it took to fall victim to a car accident.
The two get off to an inauspicious start, but slowly they fall into a pleasant routine. Lou gets to know Will, or gets to know him as much as he will allow. He is not one to trust quickly, and undoubtedly he is even more reluctant because his autocratic mother hired Lou without his input. To go from being a man in control - a man who could wake up and decide to ride a motorcycle or go snorkeling or whatever he damn well pleased - to a man who has to have his catheter inserted is a chilling, maddening proposition.
What Lou can't see is that she is every bit as paralyzed as Will. While she may be able to walk and move her arms, she nonetheless is stuck. Professionally, personally, emotionally. She is trapped in a metaphorical wheelchair of self-doubt, every bit as unable to leave it as Will is his.
Before you think you know how this will play out, let me tell you that you do not. Yes, Lou and Will grow closer. How can they not? They may even develop romantic feelings for each other. But just when you think you know how the story will end, Jojo Moyes takes you in a whole different direction. This sweet, slightly melancholic story becomes far more emotionally charged, as Will discloses his desire to end his life.
Moyes adeptly and succinctly presents both sides of the assisted suicide debate, letting each have its say. Lou and Will's mother are adamantly opposed, but Will's reasons for it resonate. When he tells Lou why he feels he must do this, you cannot help but be affected. When she pleads with him not to go through with it, your heart might break just a little.
As lovely as this book is, it does have one glaring flaw: the supporting cast is straight out of Central Casting. There are no surprises, whether it be the frosty wife who suspects her husband is cheating on her, the quirky friends, the self-absorbed boyfriend. We have seen these characters before - a LOT - so it is almost insulting that Moyes, who writes such a beautiful story that defies categorization should rely on stock characters.
Fortunately, you don't see a lot of them. The focus is on Lou and Will. Which is as it should be.