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Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

My first words upon seeing the trailer for Me Before You were: “This movie is going to ruin my life.”

And then I found out that it was based on a novel, and that was basically the end of everything.

A bit of backstory: In January of 2014, I read All the Bright Places on a flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, and that kicked off a two-years-plus tradition of crying over something on every. single. flight. Clearly, I make terrible reading decisions on planes. So when I downloaded Me Before You ahead of a trip to Dublin/Berlin, I said “Not this time, Satan.” No way was I going to cry on a plane again.

And then Inside Out was available as in-flight entertainment, so I’m sure you can figure out that my resolution to not cry didn’t last very long.

Ultimately, I read Me Before You in one sitting while supremely jet-lagged after landing in Dublin. And then I stayed in bed crying for the next two hours, because life isn’t fair and Jojo Moyes broke my heart.

If you don’t know anything about the novel, here’s a quick summary: Louisa Clark is a small-town girl with small-town ambitions who has no desire to broaden her horizons. Unfortunately for Louisa, she’s just lost her job, and as the breadwinner for her family, she needs a new one–no matter what it is. This is how she ends up as a temporary care provider for Will Traynor, a paralyzed hunk who is, initially, kind of a dick to her. But we give him a pass because he basically used to be a playboy–and because I’d already seen the trailer and I knew they were totally going to fall in love.

It’s a love story, guys. That’s not a spoiler anymore than the fact that the trailer makes it very clear that it’s also tragic.

So we embark on this journey of love and loss with Louisa and Will with cautious optimism. It’s beautifully crafted in that even though I knew where the book was ultimately going, I was willingly along for the ride. And it’s very clear where the book is going from the start–the hints are there if you ask yourself the right questions up front: Why do they only need a caregiver for six months? Why is his mother so insistent that he not be left alone for more than a few minutes at a time? Why are they hiring this slightly-ditzy young woman who has absolutely zero caregiving experience to take care of a man who requires round-the-clock care? Obvious, yet painful.

It hurt to be living these things from Louisa’s point of view, but that just means that Ms. Moyes made the right choice for her narrator. I did find it a bit jarring to occasionally jump around into other characters’ heads–but that’s a criticism I have of any books that have more than two narrators if there isn’t a regular repeating pattern. And that’s literally the only negative thing I have to say about this book, so it’s probably a nitpick.

There were certain parts of the book I had to go and reread after it was over. I wanted them to change, even after I knew the ending. One of the ultimate downfalls of reading a book is that you always have a keen awareness of how much time you have left with the characters. I knew, when there were grand plans being made, that there weren’t enough pages left for those plans to come to fruition. And that’s when you start waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I wish there was a way go get around this in fiction. I feel the same thing in movies and plays–“We’re almost at the end of the act, so something big is about to happen.”

I think Louisa, dealing with the deadline she faced, would understand this like no other.

I’ve been thinking so much about this book in the last few weeks. It lingers with you, whether you ultimately support the decisions of the characters on the pages or not. This is the kind of book that makes you look at your life and wonder if you’re living it to the fullest, or if you’re going through the motions. It kind of made me regret staying in bed crying when I could’ve been out exploring the streets of Dublin, or sitting at a cafe drinking a coffee the way I think Will would’ve wanted me to.

Bold talk: I have to reread it a few more times, but this book might make it into my top ten list. We’ll have to wait and see, since I’m not sure when I’ll have the strength to read it again, cover to cover. For now, I highly recommend that you read it. However, do it with a box of tissues at your side, and maybe someone nearby to give you a hug when it’s over.

On thing’s for certain: If this movie shows up as the in-flight entertainment on my next trip overseas, I know better than to press play.

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