Me Before You
By Jojo Moyes
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780143124542, July 2013, 400pp.)
The Short of It:
Smart, funny, heartwarming and yes, a bit gut-wrenching. I was warned to not read it in public due to its sob-inducing content but it doesn’t really matter where you read it, as long as you read it!
The Rest of It:
It’s difficult for 35-year-old Will Traynor to accept his quadriplegic status. Prior to being struck by a motorcycle, he traveled all over the world living life to the fullest. But his days and nights are now spent reliant on others. Nathan, his primary caregiver, takes care of his medical needs, but when his family sees how despondent he is about his current condition and the fact that’s he’s attempted to kill himself once already, they intervene by hiring a secondary caregiver by the name of Louisa Clark.
Louisa (Lou) is a struggling 26-year-old. Having just lost her job, her prospects are slim and having to support her father, mother and sister forces her to consider jobs that she normally would not give a second thought to. When she’s sent to interview for a caregiver position, she gives it a go, not realizing what her true purpose will be, which is essentially to give Will a reason to live again.
Tall order, huh?
At first, Lou has no idea what her job is. She’s there to be a companion to Will and to watch him when Nathan is not around. Although she feels awkward around Will. she quickly realizes what she’s been tasked with and after a minor freak-out, she embraces it. Albeit, not all that confidently at first, but after getting to know Will and what he’s all about, she feels sure that she can sway his position on life in general.
I think the success of this book, has a lot to do with Lou as a character. She’s efficient but in a bumbling sort of way. Not perfect, but her flaws make for some entertaining reading. Her too tight skirts and odd sense of style are endearing but her genuine concern over Will is what makes this entire situation a bitter pill to swallow. Her dedication to him and yes, her eventual love for him prove to be very challenging obstacles, but ones that she is willing to push through in order to get the result she wants.
What makes this story even more special, is that it’s as much about Lou, as it is about Will. From the moment Will sees Lou, he knows why she’s there. Even though he’s chair bound, he realizes he’s in the perfect position to see that Lou (he calls her Clark) lives the life that he cannot. Through new experiences, some they make together and some Lou manages on her own, the two manage to add a little bit of adventure to their day-to-day existence.
Through it all, you can’t help but be reminded of Will’s precarious health. His inability to regulate his body temperature, his increased risk for infection and his drastic mood swings are all reminders of what they are up against. In the middle of happiness, comes heartache and it’s so incredibly difficult to understand how a life can change so drastically in such a short amount of time. The unfairness of it all will leave you shaking your head and if you’re the type to cry while reading, you will definitely well-up with this one.
This is the type of read that will take you through all of the emotions. I was happy, sad, disappointed and mad. There were times when I wanted nothing else but to curse Will’s mother or shake some common sense into Will, but all in all, the experience of reading this book was like spending time with dear friends. It took me forever to pick it up because I really considered it to be straight-up romance and it’s really, so much more than that.
If you haven’t picked it up yet, you must! The cost of care and the use and availability of assisted-suicide are some of the weightier issues included in this novel. Will is rich, so the cost of his care is not really an issue but I imagine it would be for a lot of folks in the same situation. My book club chose not to read Me Before You but I think we missed out on a good discussion opportunity because there is plenty to discuss with this one.