Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Viking (Penguin Group), 2012
Hardcover copy provided by Penguin - Thank you so much!!
I'm making my way back into the world of adult fiction slowly but surely, not to say I'm abandoning YA. I'm just expanding my range a bit and what makes that possible is fantastic crossover novels like this one. Me Before You is a piece of contemporary fiction meant for adults, but teens can also get plenty out of this heart-wrenching story.
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl in an ordinary town with an unexceptional life that gets turned upside down when the cafe she works at closes and she loses her job. Desperate to work both for her sanity and because she has five people counting on her wages, she eventually takes a job with Will Traynor as his caregiver. This man used to have a big life - motorcycles, running his own business, plenty of women, travel, adventures - until an accident made him a quadriplegic and stuck him in a wheelchair, unable to do anything for himself. While they initially butt heads on just about everything - he's stubborn and mean, she never seems to do the right thing - they eventually come to need each other. Will pushes Lou to expand her horizons and live her life to the fullest; Lou makes Will laugh again. But when Lou learns Will has a secret and plans, she fights as hard as she can to show him he still has a life worth living.
It takes quite a lot for a book to make me cry, and this one had me gasping and choking down sobs. My heart took up permanent residence in my throat. Lou's journey is one that plenty of people can empathize with: she plays it safe, sticks inside her comfort zone, knows what she's afraid of and doesn't push it, and she tries to please her family even though it feels like all they do is make fun of her even though her little money is what helps them get by. And then there's Will who has been dealt a terrible hand in life. This novel gives an incredibly in-depth and aching look at what it's like for quadriplegics.
I felt for both of these characters. I could see things from each of their points of view and why they thought the things they did and made their choices. I was lucky enough to take a class when I was a senior in high school called Social Implications of Biology (essentially, an ethics in science course), and many of those lessons came back to me while reading. The struggle between Will and his family, Will and his doctors, Will and the world, even Will and Lou all came down to choices: Just because Will has lost his ability to move, does that automatically mean he gave up his ability to choose what his life is like? Who's to say how we measure quality of life and if one's life is 'good enough'? What makes a life worth living?
This book is built on big, complicated, difficult questions that many of us are lucky to not have to face in our lives. To me, that's all the more reason to think about them. Just because something isn't pleasant doesn't mean we should turn away. I loved this book even as it broke my heart page after page. My only regret is that it's been sitting on my bookshelf for so long and I didn't read it sooner - it was simply incredible.
Comments welcome, and as always, happy reading.
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