Jojo Moyes: Me Before You (Penguin, 2012)

Me Before YouSo the trailer for the film version of this book came out recently, and after I watched it and screamed to myself because Daenerys Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of Meereen, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons and Finnick Odair1 are the romantic leads and I love both of them, I decided to go home and start reading the book immediately, since I bought it a few months ago and then got sucked into Outlander2 and forgot about it.

I started reading around 6 p.m. and finished the book before midnight, and was in hysterical tears by the time I was through. The AP was not joking in the endorsements when they suggested that this book should be sold with a packet of tissues. This is a story about loving someone enough to let them go, and as such it’s not easy on the heartstrings! But it is a really beautiful story and I loved the characters.

A brief synopsis: Louisa Clark gets laid off from her job waitressing in a café, and after a few failed attempts to find other gainful employment, she ends up being hired as a caretaker for Will Traynor, who was hit by a motorcycle and sustained a spinal cord injury, rendering him quadriplegic. He is, unsurprisingly, not super thrilled about his disability, and even less thrilled knowing he’s being babysat by Louisa. They don’t get on very well, as you can imagine. When Louisa finds out she was hired to keep an eye on Will because he’d attempted suicide, her view of him changes, and she does her best to try to improve his quality of life, with mixed results.

First of all, Louisa is friggin’ adorable. Now, my opinion may be colored by the fact that I was imagining Emilia Clarke in this role, since I read the book knowing she would be in it, but nevertheless—adorable. I think it’s probably easy for a lot of people around my age (I’m 27; Louisa’s 26/27 in the book) to relate to her frustration with finding work she likes and feeling like she’s a little too set in her ways. It’s easy to fall into these ruts where you’re comfortable with your situation but you could be doing something different.

Then there’s Will, who was a high-powered young executive who used to travel and do all kinds of high-energy things before his injury. Will comes off as kind of a jerk at first until you find out why Louisa was hired, and then I think it becomes really easy to empathize with him. Imagine living a really active life, and then in the blink of an eye you lose the ability to move your body below the upper part of your back. Jojo Moyes must have done a lot of research about C5–6 quadriplegics; when you think of someone who is quadriplegic, you think, “Oh, they can’t move anything below the neck.” But it’s so much more than that—his immune response is significantly lower so it’s easier for him to get infections (especially from things like his catheter), he can’t regulate his body temperature, he always needs someone to help him eat and take care of personal matters and move him around. I didn’t know about all of this when I read the book, so it was definitely an eye-opening experience. I could absolutely understand why this guy had attempted suicide, and why he was so dead-set3 on ending his life after the six-month probationary period he’d set up with his family.

This, of course, only makes it harder to read the scenes where Louisa realizes that she can’t make him change his mind. On their vacation to Madagascar—which was so nice—when they are dancing and he tells her that he still means to go through with his plan, I was just gutted. I totally understood why he had to do it, but Louisa is such a tenderhearted reader proxy that I honestly started bawling so hard to the point where I was really glad no one was home at the time. And then I cried some more when she packed up her stuff and quit working with Will. And then the tears started again when she found out he was still alive and waiting for her in Switzerland because he wanted to see her before he died. BYE. BYE JOJO MOYES. THANKS FOR BREAKING MY HEART.

But I really loved how Louisa tried to revive Will’s sense of adventure, and how she tried to keep him alive against all odds, and how Will showed Louisa that she was worth more than a family and boyfriend that teased her and didn’t appreciate her and a small dead-end town where she would never become more than what she already was. I’m really excited to see how she grows in After You, the sequel. And I’m really excited to see the film in June, even though I will be an ugly red-faced weeping mess by the time it’s over. I thought it was a really beautiful story and written in a really sensitive way, and I look forward to reading more Jojo Moyes soon!

  1. In addition to this excellent casting, the film also features Tywin Lannister (Will’s dad, Steven), Mr. Bates (Louisa’s dad, I think?), Clara Oswald (Katrina, Louisa’s sister), and Neville Longbottom (Louisa’s boyfriend, Patrick)
  2. I finished Drums of Autumn and The Fiery Cross, but can’t seem to get my shit together enough to write about them.
  3. Perhaps this is a poor choice of words.

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