me before you

I got a little Christmas cash and decided to spend it on (what else??) books! After I finished The Light Between Oceans last week I looked for the author on Twitter but saw instead that she is coming to Kansas City for an author event with Rainy Day Books. WHOOoo wait—it’s a Tuesday, and I have rehearsal that night. Dang. Well, it’s okay because that just led me to find Me Before You. Author Jojo Moyes was in KC on a Tuesday this month, but since I missed the event I pre-ordered an autographed copy of the book and picked it up before my Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend trip to Wisconsin.

Me Before You tells the story of Louisa and Will, two people whose lives are stifled in different ways. Louisa is seemingly content with her tame life and low-responsibility café job in her small English hometown. At 27, she still lives at her parents’ home, has a childish rivalry with her sister, and has no “real” plan for the future, career- or education-wise. Will was a worldly, jet-setting, high-profile, wealthy businessman until a freak automotive accident rendered him quadriplegic. In the two years between the accident and when Will’s family hired Louisa to be his caregiver, Will sunk deeply into depression—so deeply that he sees no reason to remain alive. This is not the life he imagined for himself; he had it all and lost everything. Louisa and Will form a bond that may just change both their worlds…

Okay, I don’t want to give away spoilers! Me Before You was wonderful. I’m not much of a romance genre person, but this is the kind of love story I can get into—very unconventional and not sappy or syrupy at all. Actually it’s not “romantic” (well, maybe just one or two small scenes) but it is a love story. Louisa is a big-hearted person surrounded by self-centered (and some mean-spirited) people in her life: her fitness-obsessed boyfriend Patrick, her know-it-all selfish sister Katrina, her sharp-teasing father. In brilliant contrast to Will’s physical paralysis, Louisa is emotionally paralyzed—trapped by fear of change, of what could happen if she expands her horizons past the borders of the town.

Me Before You is told in first-person by Louisa, mostly. An occasional chapter told from the point of view of a couple other characters (Katrina, Will’s nurse Nathan, his mom, etc.) shakes up the narrative. I found the dialogue and interactions between characters realistic and not at all contrived. The characters feel like they could be real people, with all their faults and self-absorption. I found myself identifying somewhat with Louisa’s personality—a spirited optimist at heart, a bit of a goofball with silly jokes that sometimes only she gets. Will’s depression, anger, and frustration at his situation is palpable and understandable.

I loved the development of Will and Louisa’s relationship, from stubbornness (both of them) to an easy mutual friendship, to a blossoming love. They are great foils for one another. Louisa brings fun and humor back into Will’s life, and he shows her there are worlds of adventure and culture waiting out there for her to discover. I honestly didn’t know what would happen with until the very end; as I read those last few pages I could feel tears welling up. I was surprised to find myself getting so emotionally worked up throughout the book. I laughed several times, I thought to myself DUMP HIM! or KISS HER!! while reading, etc. Ha!

But the best, I think, about Me Before You is that it addresses some issues that (maybe?) go largely untouched in literature: a dignified death (and choice in the matter—assisted suicide), date rape, and a severely disabled lead character. (I’m sure I’m not well read enough to say authoritatively, but at least in my reading experience I haven’t come across this much in fiction). Reading this book, it was easy catch myself wondering what I might do (or not do) if thrust into the same situation. It sparks these thoughts without political or religious debate—just pure and powerful interpersonal relationships. And I love when a book makes me think about tough, grey-area issues (without preaching or ranting at me), while being emotionally affecting and, ultimately, I feel uplifted. Me Before You is a memorable, moving read.

Read from January 18 to 25, 2013.

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