May 23, 2016

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

TitleMe Before You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: July 30, 2013
Pages/Format: 369, Paperback
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never 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? 

Book in One Word: Thinker
I went into Me Before You with one very specific expectation: that it was going to to be one of Those Books. You know, one of those books, the kinds of books I very specifically do not read because there's a very good chance they might break me. (See: Exhibit A and Exhibit B.) This is probably a spoiler alert--and honestly, it kind of is, if you think about it--but this book is known for something: that it's good, yes, but also that it's S A D. I do not like sad books. I do not read sad books. I do not like feeling so uncontrollably emotional and spending my day(s) trying so damn hard not to cry my eyes out. (See again: Exhibit A and Exhibit B, those filthy bastards.) But I finally took the plunge and read Me Before You after seeing the first movie trailer and because this book was everywhere and I decided to suck it up, further wreckage of my soul be damned, because this mood reader was in the mood for this book. And I read it. And I--and my book-damaged soul--am okay.

Here's a fun fact: I bought this book from Goodwill a couple or so years ago because I recognized it since a few friends had raved about it, but I don't think I knew much about it--except that it was sad, I think. And here's the kicker: I thought a large part of the story had to do with an old man who was, of course, dying. Well. Let me tell you that I was wrong. Because Me Before You is about Louisa and how her life changes when she becomes a caretaker for Will Traynor, a man stuck in a wheelchair after an accident left almost every single part of his body paralyzed and ultimately took away any control Will had over himself. Except it's not about that, not exactly, not really. It's about love and life and choice, and it's something I did not except this novel to be: a gosh damn thinker.

I'm going to talk about why this book is a gosh damn thinker and it's going to get a bit spoilery (I, at least, didn't know this when I started the book), so if you want to avoid spoilers please skip to the next paragraph. Now. You heard what I said about Will. The guy can move his head, maybe a bit of his neck, and possibly part of one hand (don't quote me; I don't remember for sure, but it's basically nothing). Will can do just about nothing for himself: someone has to feed him, bathe him, wipe him, put him to bed, adjust him if he's not comfortable in a chair, brush his teeth--do you get the picture? Pre-accident, Will was an adventurer, a man who lived on the edge and did this and that and never stopped moving--until he did. That Will lived. This Will barely survives--couldn't on his own--and merely exists, but this Will isn't living. And here's where the thinking--and the spoiler--comes in. Will has a date set, and if on that date he still wants to die, he will go to a controversially known facility that helps people take their own lives, circumstances depending--it's assisted suicide. And you have to wonder: why would Will willingly kill himself? He survived the accident, after all. He has family, and maybe a friend or two who's willing to converse with the wheelchair-bound Will. But then you think, and I mean think: how do you live like that? You can't do a damn thing for yourself except breathe and blink and talk and think--the most mundane tasks are no longer possible. Are you living, or are you existing? Can you really blame Will for wanting to go on his terms and choose his last adventure? I'm too afraid of death to go near it, willingly or unwillingly, but I still thought about it, if I was in this situation. A fish in a tank has more freedom than you. How do you live? That, my friends, is the thinker. The gosh damn fucking thinker.

Here's another fun fact (and let's get off such a serious topic, shall we?): I kind of hated this book at first, and Me Before You and I were not getting along, and it was making my head hurt a bit, which is never a good thing for a book to do. The problem was the writing. I did not like it all. I couldn't even tell you what, exactly, that problem was. But it was a problem. (Also, the random point-of-view switches were random and a bit jarring, and I'm not sure they were necessary.) Fortunately, I persevered. And eventually--and suddenly--I realized the writing no longer bothered me. (Thank gosh.) Perhaps that's because I became so immersed with the story. I wanted to know what was going to happen and how it all would end, tried to figure out how it could possibly end in a way that wasn't going to hurt me. Maybe the book was notoriously sad but would turn out happy. I reached a point where I wanted no one to bother me and got in one of those moods where I just read and read and read. I didn't want to put it down, but I was also afraid of reaching the end. It's one of Those Books.

Louisa is such a fun, bubbly, and quirky character. (I have hopes for the movie based on the various trailers; it seems to stay pretty true.) She lives in this small house with her parents, grandfather, sister, and nephew, and it can be crowded but in a somewhat comfy way. Louisa can be rather cheery about things, but can still have her breaking points, which help to build her up as a character and someone real. She has a boyfriend, but he's stupid and no one likes him. Her family could get a bit frustrating at times, but they were close-knit and had this sort of...essence about them, which I really liked. And then there's Will Traynor. I've already told you about him, but let me tell you About him. He's a paralyzed man in a wheelchair, and Louisa, desperate for a job and inexperienced, gets to be his caretaker. Will is...well, he's in a situation and hates everything about it. He pushes people away, can be standoffish and rude, and could be called an ass. But Louisa is infectious, and like a disease she spreads into Will, and maybe, just maybe, Will might be a little bit less of an ass.

Me Before You defies expectations. You go into it expecting something sad, and you'll get that, but you'll also get so much more. Yes, I cried--but not as much as I thought I would. Not very much at all, really. You expect a Lifetime or Hallmark movie but get something much deeper and meaningful. It still feels like a lighter novel--thank gosh--and that's probably in part to Louisa and her personality and atmosphere. But sometimes that lightness gets a little cloudy and you find out that this novel is simply just more. It's one of Those Books.


Did I like it? Yes!
Did I love it? I don't know that I loved it.
Would I reread it? This may be a possibility.
Would I purchase it? I already own it, but if I didn't I wouldn't mind getting it for my shelves.
Who would I recommend it to? Fans of contemporary novels that go beyond the suggestion of a cute romance, quaint little towns (bonus: England!), and a little bit of heartbreak.

6 comments:

  1. I burst into tears at the trailer, I know I couldn't handle the book or the full movie tbh. I don't know that I want this kind of sad, but I appreciate a well-done review, thank you!

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  2. I share many of your thoughts on Me Before You. It was a good read, with a poignant story and a thought-provoking ending that defies expectations. But the writing didn't always do it for me either. Thanks for the review!

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  3. Imaginary Book Club picked this one for it's April read - I have to say, I was surprised at how much this book made me LAUGH. I was expecting to cry, duh, but I wasn't expecting it to be so much fun along the way. Definitely worth the read!

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  4. This is such a great review. I also tend to stay away from books that are going to make me sad. But after watching the trailer, I went out and bought the book and read it. I so agree that this book makes you think...and think hard. I really struggled with Will's decision from all perspectives. Like it's his choice, totally, because it's his life. But the feeling that being with Louisa isn't enough, and I know that it wasn't about that, it was really just a personal decision for him and nothing to do with anyone else. It was just so hard, and raw and real in a way. That last bit really nailed the feels for me, the letter part. I just... man, I can't wait for the movie.

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  5. Aw, shoot, I think I have to read this now. :D
    Thanks!

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  6. I thought it would be one of Those Books too, and I also thought it was going to be horribly cliché, but I'm interested in this one now! And congrats on loving this one before it was popular; it's always a thrill when that happens :D Great review!

    - Eli @ The Silver Words

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