Written by: Jojo Moyes
Book #2 / 2 of the Me Before You series
Rating: 4/5 stars
Summary: Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future where she may just learn to move on from her grief.
“The only way to avoid being left behind was to start moving.”
Review: I read this novel in a book club with friends, and when we discussed it, they startled when I said I enjoyed it more than Me Before You – but hear me out.
Me Before You was an incredible story about a man who lost a large part of his identity through tragedy, and a woman who learned to love him despite it all. But the thing that bothers me abut the book is that Moyes took a topic that is a very serious and real matter and made it into a plot line. Did she instigate a conversation about a human’s right to die? Absolutely. But the story with which she decided to tell it was opportunistic, for lack of a better word. She chose the trope of two characters who had nothing in common but still fall in love; she chose Will, who has suffered for a relatively short period of time and had abundant amounts of wealth to do almost anything his abilities would allow, as well as was always completely adamant about wanting to end his life; and she chose Lou, an awkward yet lovable woman with no prior connection to Will. But the reality of the situation is that most of these stories, of people who suffer from the decision of ending their lives in relation to tragic injuries or chronic pain, isn’t quite as “beautiful”. And that is what Moyes fails to honor. My father has been a paraplegic for most of my life, and it’s harder than Me Before You ever truly shows, especially when you have to adjust your whole life around it and don’t have the same options Will does.
However, After You is where Moyes redeems herself, showing the more realistic continuation of Lou’s story. Although the whole plot line with the surprise of Will’s now teenage child, as well as an additional plot twist at the end, is a little dramatic, there are so many aspects of it which Moyes depicts so beautifully. The views she shares on grief, and how unaccepting society sometimes is of depression and long-term grief, hit closer to the heart than anything. The development of Lou’s relationship with Treena, which so closely resembles my own relationship with my sister, shows how someone with a completely different story and perspective can help you find your own views, and the creation of the relationship between Lou and Lily exemplifies how you can learn to love and heal yourself by first loving and healing someone else. Lastly, the changing dynamic of Lou’s parents, as well as the evolving Camilla Traynor, both depict perfectly, in two very different ways, how time can change everything. There are so many macro themes in this book that they’re almost easy to look over, but each one is a tome that I have felt deeply in my own life, and it made them easily recognizable within the text. And while there is a love story, it is not the point of the book. The point of the book, to me, is to show that while recovering can be a long, arduous process and very relative to the individual, that it isn’t impossible – and I think that is a lesson that Moyes failed to convey in the first book, which is why she decided to compose a sequel.
Another thing that Moyes improves in After You is her characterizations. Although the recurring characters, for the most part, remained within the hard-ridged archetypes they seemed to follow in Me Before You, Moyes successfully allowed for them to grow in ways I did not expect, from Camilla’s gradually opening heart, to Lou’s parents’ growing understanding of “feminism”, to Treena’s softening but still persistent ambition. Lou’s personality, unfortunately, stays by and large the same, which is a little disappointing considering I can tell Moyes intended for her to grow. Other than that, Moyes does an incredible job with the new characters, however small as they may be. While Sam, Lou’s main love interest, seemed very flat to me and their chemistry seemed to lack something that was so present with Will, I think that makes it more realistic, because sometimes falling in love can be so natural, so comfortable, and so easy that it doesn’t need to be complicated by idioms or tragedies. Lily, Will’s progeny and then Lou’s, is somehow a perfect mix of them despite the fact that she is not actually Lou’s; she is Will, with her anger and her stubbornness and her wealthy upbringing and her confidence and playfulness, but her heart, despite the fact that she thinks it is Will’s, mirrors Lou’s. Her wide-eyed vulnerability and desperate want to trust anybody, the care she does show to her plants, Lou, and, later, Camilla, and how hurt she gets by being rejected is entirely like Lou. I like to imagine that this is an intentional decision by Moyes, to make Lily a character that is mostly Will, but also molds into a little of Lou by the end. Even the additional characters that played smaller roles somehow seemed to take up larger amounts of the book in my memory than they actually did, such as Donna and the members of Lou’s therapy group. Moyes so perfectly depicts each of this individual’s specific personalities that it was easy and enjoyable for me to imagine them perfectly in my mind.
So, after all of these conversations with my book club, they admitted they understood why I enjoyed After You more – because it spoke to me, someone who has grieved, someone who has felt sadness deeply. Me Before You was sad, but not relatable, as most romantically-driven books are to me, since I have never fallen in love. But I have been triggered by small things my subconscious has registered, I have been questioned about my seemingly everlasting grief, and I have moved on. As much as people argue that the story is about Lou moving to move on through Lily, it is more than that. She learns to move on, to grow, through her parents and Treena and Camilla and her therapy group and more, and that’s what hits me the most. Even when you feel the most alone, even when you feel that nobody else understands you, it is important to rely on those around you even when they don’t understand, because they are the ones who will be standing at the other end of things when you jump across the chasm of grief.