Book Review: Me Before You

Lou Clark, the young protagonist in Jojo Moyes' Me Before You, likes her small life. She works at the local cafe, which helps pay her parents' bills. She also lives with her parents, and sometimes her sister and her young nephew, in a crowded, ramshackle house. She avoids new experiences at any cost, preferring instead to enjoy a thick paperback from the library. And she likes her long term boyfriend, Patrick, well enough.

Then Lou gets laid off from her job, and scours the newspaper for temp opportunities, as to avoid letting her parents down. One, written rather vaguely, promises excellent pay to be a companion to a man in a wheelchair. Lou figures, how hard can it be?

The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life — or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else’s life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window — is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are. Or how you might seem to other people.
— Jojo Moyes

Turns out, extremely hard. She meets the man in question, Will Traynor, and the two immediately dislike one another. Though Will is handsome, rich and smart (naturally), he is also livid and devastated at his condition due an accident, which destroyed his beloved, adventurous lifestyle of days past. Lou can't understand Will's anger and pain, and over time, tries to simply earn her keep and get through the days unscathed, until one afternoon, she overhears a shocking conversation that sheds light on Will and sets their lives in motion in a completely different direction.

They say you only really appreciate a garden once you reach a certain age, and I suppose there is a truth in that. It’s probably something to do with the great circle of life. There seems to be something miraculous about seeing the relentless optimism of new growth after the bleakness of winter, a kind of joy in the difference every year, the way nature chooses to show up different parts of the garden to its full advantage.
— Jojo Moyes

Could. Not. Put. It. Down. 

Moyes, a British writer, tells the story of Lou and Will clearly and with emotion, and while Me Before You certainly involves themes of love and commitment and respect, it primarily asks morally charged questions such as: what does it mean to live a good life? Who gets to decide what a "good life" looks like? How do we as a society look out for individuals with disabilities? What makes an experience worthwhile? How important is love? How often should we tell the truth in our families? How does morality work against autonomy, or vice versa? And so on.

Me Before You doesn't end the way you think, or hope, it will -- yet it's refreshingly honest and heavy and hopeful all at once, and well worth the read.