Me Before You is the story of how Louisa Clark, a twenty-something single woman still living at home in small-town England. Her life changes when she is hired by a wealthy family to be a companion/care-giver to a quadriplegic man, Will Traynor, intent on ending his life.
Will Traynor, prior to his accident, was a very successful man, both professionally and in private. He enjoyed travel, sports and all sorts of physical activities and challenges. Now confined to a wheelchair, there is nearly nothing he can do. He doesn’t want to live this way and has arranged to go to a place in Europe where assisted suicide is legal. His parents have agreed to take him in six months if he still wants to go. Louisa is hired with the hope that she can change his mind.j
Spoiler Alert!: Don’t read any further if you are planning to read this book and want to be surprised by the story.
At first Louisa finds it very difficult to care for Will. He’s rude, belligerent, and just plain difficult to get along with. Louisa persists in a variety of ways and pushes herself to try new things in order to help Will. Louisa succeeds in making his life better. She falls in love with him and he in turn loves her. But — it’s not enough to change his mind about his suicide.
I didn’t know the complete plot of the story before I read it. I was hoping for “happy-ever-after” so I was sad at the end. But the book gave me a lot to think about long after I finished it. Yes, there’s the whole subject of assisted suicide, but there’s also the question of what does it mean to truly be alive? Are you really alive if only your brain and internal organs are working? But what I really thought about the most was Louisa. What happened to her after that intense six months and Will’s death? I must not have been the only one because the author, JoJo Moyes, gave us a follow-up story: After You.
After You picks up right where Me Before You left off. Will had left Louisa with a nice inheritance with instructions to move on and make something of herself. He wanted her to get out of their small town and see something of the world. He left her a note with specific instructions to read it only at a certain cafe in Paris. Here’s what the note said:
“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
It’s wonderful advice although one might find it hypocritical. After all, he chose not to live. Louisa struggles for quite some time. She travels around Europe, but eventually comes back to London and takes a job. She finds herself talked into joining a grief-counseling group where she meets other people and gradually begins to care about others again. She is really pushed over the top when a wild teenager shows up at her door claiming to be Will’s daughter.
Both books deal with some difficult topic, but overall these books are wonderful character studies. It’s told primarily in first-person from Louisa’s perspective so I found it easy to know Louise quite well. I loved seeing how she didn’t change who she really was at her core, while at the same time gradually began moving into living a life that suited her.
I also loved Louisa’s quirky family. Her mom, dad, grandad, sister and young nephew offered so many humorous moments to both books. I often asked myself how I could laugh so much in these books about tragedy? But I was reminded that laughter is great medicine.
I strongly recommend reading both books together, unless of course you’ve already read the first one. You’ll find laugh-out-loud humor, wonderful characters, and a plot that moves at a good pace. After You had a satisfying conclusion, but I think the author left a little room for a return visit if she chooses. I hope she does.