Written by: Jojo Moyes
Book # 1 / 2 in the Me Before You series
Rating: 4/5 stars
Summary: Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.
“All I can say is that you make me… you make me into someone I couldn’t even imagine. You make me happy, even when you’re awful. I would rather be with you – even the you that you seem to think is diminished – than with anyone else in the world.”
Review: This has been on my “read ASAP” shelf on my wall for too long, but it just kept getting pushed aside because I knew there was no way this wasn’t going to make me cry several times throughout. Disclaimer: I’ve been a caretaker for my father, paralyzed in his left leg due to brain cancer and general muscle weakness due to MS, since I was very young. I don’t actually ever remember not being a caretaker, but that doesn’t mean I was ever more used to the obstacles we had to face with my father. Every small story the main character, Louisa Clark, tells in regards to taking care of Will – from the normally simple illnesses that can easily turn lethal, the fiasco at the racing track with getting the wheelchair stuck in the rain, and just dealing with Will’s depression while trying to stop herself from going down the same path – hit WAY too close to home. I also read this book, unintentionally, alongside two of my best friends, who cried a lot more than I did. When we talked about it at the end of the book, they told me about how much certain things upset them, and it kind of surprised me because they were things I dealt with on a regular basis with my family. Even though I myself am a caretaker, I sometimes forget that isn’t the norm and that most people have no idea what people with disabilities go through on a regular basis. That being said, I think that is why the book was so beautiful to me – because it gave an honest, albeit dark, view of what disability can do not only to someone like Will, but the people who surround him as well. And it also allowed for me to start a conversation with my friends to tell them that people with disabilities have bad days, but are rarely at the same level as the Traynors.
That all aside, the book is incredibly easy to read although the writing does sometimes lack. There is a lot dialogue, which I definitely enjoy, but too scant detail. I don’t know if I just missed it or what, but a lot of physical details of characters and non-recurring landscapes were missing, but Moyes still gives you just enough information to imagine the story as you’d like it. Additionally, I could definitely do with a little more character development, especially in Louisa and Will’s “relationship”. I feel like there a lot of scenes included that could have been brushed over entirely, or just expanded upon, in order to make the intensity of their relationship later on seem a little more reasonable. I also love Moyes for her decision to right about a very important issue that is very relevant in modern times, but that is not exactly talked about, especially in the States where it is not even an option – assisted suicide. Everyone has their own side of the argument, and Moyes portrays both well enough in the novel that you’re curious as to where even she stands. She creates a story with so many lovable characters that you want to pick all of their sides, but you just can’t. However, at the end of the day, after reading all those reviews that said it left a “gaping hole in their chest”, or “their heart bleeding”, what happened to me was that I closed the book, put it down, and sighed. It was a good ending, and I think, an important one, but it is NOT a happy ending. I don’t know how, but I actually expected an untraditional ending the entire time, so I wasn’t surprised, but I know my two friends I read with were. So, that being said – if you’re looking for a happy, perfect ending, PUT IT DOWN.
There’s some people who express a dislike of the main character, Louisa, on the basis that she changes only because of Will and that shows she’s still weak. But it’s not that simple. Louisa is an older daughter overshadowed by the accomplishments of her sister, the member of a household which is so tightly knit that she feels like she can’t escape, and scarred by her past – which is COMPLETELY underdeveloped – that I believe has scared her from dreaming of a future. By interacting with Will, Louisa begins to see all of the possibilities in her life and all of her full potential, and it’s not because she’s in love with him and changes for him. It’s because for the first time, someone has told her that she’s brilliant and can do more, and someone gives her the opportunity to do so. And this relationship works both ways, in that Louisa also brings out the best in Will. Although he’s spent many of the years following his accident depressed and limited, she shows him it is possible to be happy and return to some of the same activities he was able to do previously. But beyond the two main characters, there’s a slew of side characters who, despite a minuscule amount of physical details, I was able to imagine perfectly. First, there’s Nathan, Will’s nurse, who I adore. He is everything a good caretaker and friend (to both Will and Louisa) should be, and I think he is honestly one of the most likable characters in the book. Then, there’s Louis and Will’s families. The Clarks and the Traynors are completely opposite from on another. Louisa’s family is a close-knit unit stressed by their financial situation like most, fearful of losing their jobs, how to make ends meet, and how to afford one daughter in university. The Traynors, meanwhile, have more money than they know what to do with, but struggle with distance between their members and widening gaps in their relationships. While I do love Treena, Louisa’s younger sister who can be her sounding board and voice of reason, as well as her father, who is immensely lovable and loving, I dislike Will’s younger sister and father, both who seem a little annoyed by Will’s situation and completely selfish. But perhaps the most interesting characterizations are the juxtapositions of the two mothers. Whereas in the beginning, Josie Clark and Camilla Traynor are day and night, it is revealed they have more in common than previously believed by the end of the book, and it shows how extenuating circumstances can change a whole person’s nature, which is one of the most pivotal ideas of the novel.
Ultimately, this book is one that I am very excited to see played out on the big screen by such an incredible cast. I can see Emilia Clark as Lou and Sam Claflin as Will so easily, it kind of scares me. Also, I can’t wait to pick up the next book in the series which, spoiler alert, DO NOT LOOK UP UNTIL YOU HAVE FINISHED THIS ONE. I really did thoroughly enjoy Moyes’ writing style, and her ability to make such a dense book about such intense topics seem so light makes me want to buy her other books to see if the trend continues.