Monday, June 9, 2014

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Title: Me Before You 

Author: Jojo Moyes

Rating: 3.5 Stars

It has been said before, but it bears repeating: Me Before You is not a love story. In fact, despite the fact that this mantra has been stated and re-stated in nearly all of the reviews I've read of this book, I still got it into my head that it was a romance and a damn depressing one at that, considering the subject matter.


It's not a romance.

And it's not quite depressing, just...sad.

But only in parts.

Me Before You follows Lou, a bright young girl who has never left the comfort of her hometown. For Lou, working in the cafe, visiting her steady boyfriend, and staying with her parents is a perfectly respectable life. She isn't the ambitious daughter that her sister is, but she also isn't a single-mother the way her sister is, which seems to balance out the ordinariness of her life perfectly. When Lou's cafe shuts down, however, leaving her jobless at a time when her parents need the cash flow, she decides to take on a job as a carer, caring for Will Traynor. Will lived a vivacious life, scaling dangerous mountains, skiing down steep inclines, trekking through vast name it, Will has been there and done it. Until, that is, a car accident leaves him paralyzed, stuck in a wheelchair and unable to do much on his own. For the past two years, Will's life has consisted of hospital visits, listening to the radio, reading novels, and watching the television. For a former adventurer, it isn't much of a life, particularly when there is practically zero chance of his condition improving.

When Lou enters Will's life, he's bitter and sarcastic, unwilling to succumb to her natural goodwill and charm. Naturally, he's furious with the cards life has dealt him and, coupled with the fact that his ex-girlfriend and former co-worker are engaged to be married soon, his temper is caustic. Lou, used to the genial atmosphere of the cafe where customers greet her, speak to her, and want to meet her, is taken aback by Will's temperament and is reluctant to continue her position. However, knowing her family needs the money, Lou persists, visiting Will with a tentative smile day after day, despite the fact that his mother terrifies her and him more so.

But, the relationship that develops between Will and Lou is so, so precious. Both of them come to a slow compromise, learning to get along, and eventually that develops into a tight friendship neither than step away from. Will, despite his cynical outlook on life, is surprised by Lou's small existence and takes it upon himself to expand her horizons, introducing her to foreign films, different novels, and world news. Lou, in turn, opens Will up from his despondent lifestyle, forcing him to see the small miracles in life--even his own.

What I appreciate about Me Before You, though, is the fact that Moyes never sugarcoats their relationship. Although Will and Lou are beginning to get along, Will constantly has his bad days; days when sickness keeps him in bed, days when the injustice of his situation hits him anew, days when he can't leave his house without feeling embarrassed--without feeling like a burden to those around him. As these feelings fester inside him, they bring along with them a fresh slew of problems as Will must consider whether or not he truly wants to live for a desperate few more years in pain or simply end his life while he can. It's a disturbing situation, but one Moyes deals with aplomb, which I greatly admire. From her no-nonsense writing style to her matter-of-fact prose, she never romanticizes the predicament Will is in, which only makes this story all the more heart-breaking.

Of course, there is a fair dose of romance in this novel as Lou falls in love with the man Will still is, but her Will and the Will before the accident are two entirely different men who Will himself cannot reconcile, which presents issues in their relationship. What's more, Will's disability prevents him from pursuing a relationship with Lou in the way he truly wants to and the weight of that sacrifice weighs upon him, nearly always. In the midst of these inner turmoils, though, Moyes--quite unnecessarily--throws in a variety of other hurdles. Most notably, Lou's longtime boyfriend, Patrick.

Patrick's presence in Me Before You is a mere annoyance, simply because his character lacks development. Patrick and Lou are an easy, convenient couple--one whose spark has long since died. Patrick is now focused on marathon training while Lou becomes increasingly involved in her new job as Will's carer, which only further wedges the gap between them. For me, their relationship never felt like a true obstacle in Lou's path and though it further represented the comfortable bubble she lived in, it lacked true purpose throughout the story. Me Before You is solely Will and Lou's story, thus the two-dimensional and flat secondary characters merely acted as roadblocks in the pacing of this story. Even with side characters such as Will's parents, his nurse, or Lou's family members, Moyes attempted to develop them by featuring one sole chapter interspersed in the narrative from their perspective instead of Lou's. While these chapters certainly shed more light on these characters, it felt cumbersome in such an all-consuming tale such as this one. I'd have loved to see these secondary character further developed--perhaps through more than one chapter from their perspective--but this taste of depth which Moyes provided wound up being far more detrimental to the storyline.

Another point of contention for me in Moyes acclaimed novel is the viewpoint shared of a life well-spent. At some point in Me Before You, the message of this novel became lost amidst the contentious tension between Will and Lou and their fate. It's an emotional ride, which I can appreciate, but I do not think I am alone in claiming that reader's will likely close this novel feeling a range of feeling instead of reflecting on the themes Moyes has--too subtly--weaved through this tale. Me Before You is all about living your life; really living your life. It's about encouraging people to go out there, leave their comfort zones, and experience the vastness of the planet we live on. However, while these are incredible messages to get across, I dislike the fact that Will is rich and privileged, enabling him to live the type of vibrant lifestyle he considers worthy. It's a complaint I've seen emerge from novels such as Gayle Forman's Just One Day duology, but where that series differs for me is in the fact that Allyson, the protagonist, finds ways to make her life meaningful by simply making friends, meeting people, and attending new classes. Forman, though writing of rich characters who have the money to travel the world, never fails to mention that life just can be just as profound and worthy doing small, meaningful activities opposed to the grand gestures of cinema.

Now, that's not to say that Moyes misses this message entirely--for she doesn't--but I felt as if it became buried under Will's constant advice for Lou to travel to the places he had been and leave her hometown. Instead, what I wanted was the acknowledgement that though Will's life felt fulfilling because of his adventures, the lives of people such as Lou's parents could also be considered more than fulfilling because of the love and family and support present in their lives. John Green, in The Fault in Our Stars, writes of how each and every one of us want to achieve greatness and make our mark on the world, but often the most profound manner in which we achieve that is by making a mark on the people around us. Moyes has written a novel that follows these messages perfectly, but the fact that I never felt it--that such important themes were never palpable on the page the way the feelings and lives of these characters were--is slightly disappointing.

Nevertheless, Me Before You is widely loved by many, many readers and, trust me, they're not wrong. Although I have my fair share of qualms with this novel, it still remains an excellent read--emotional, thought-provoking, and educational. It isn't your typical contemporary read, but perhaps that's what makes it so special.


  1. I've heard a lot about this novel, and a lot of it has been conflicting. I think you sum it up really nicely though, Keertana, and in a way that appeals to me. The powerful themes that emanate from the novel seem to almost mask those hiccups along the way, and the relationship between Lou and Will sounds like a true saving grace. I'm adding this to my list because of you. Lovely, honest review for such a complex novel.

  2. That's quite a review. I haven't read a book by the author but I confess I'm intrigued because I see it everywhere and we even have them in French. But well... one day.

  3. Jojo's name really stands out and I've considered trying one of her books, but wasn't sure if I should. The fact that this isn't a romance appeals to me, I like that it focuses on a difficult friendship, so I also understand your annoyance with Patrick, who shouldn't be an interruption to this platonic relationship

  4. So many people rave about this author's books that it's actually a relief to read a more balanced review. I appreciate the thoroughness of letting us know what to expect, because certainly from other reviews I've read (and the cutesy cover art for all her books), I thought it would be something more typical.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  5. A gorgeous review, as always, and very balanced, too. And you've confirmed my initial thoughts: this book isn't for me. It took me nearly a year to pick up TFiOS (even though I'd bought it when it first came out) because of the subject matter. I'm an emotional wimp.

  6. While I'm not sure this is the book for me (I'm going to want to force into being a romance when it's clearly not ), your review is gorgeous as always, and this is clearly a very memorable read which is of course a very good thing:) Love those really special books, even with their issues.

  7. I never thought this book was for me, but your review has me considering it a little bit more. Maybe I'll pick it up sometime in the future. I had seen this book around many times, but I had never known what it was about until I read your review. For some reason, it reminds me of Jane Eyre, as their relationship was filled with obstacles and ups and downs too. It sounds like a poignant novel, and I'm glad you enjoyed it despite a few complaints. Beautifully written!

  8. Wonderful review! I have debated a really long time on whether or not to read this one and I am still so unsure. I love all the insight in your review though, it does make me super curious.

  9. This is an incredibly thoughtful review, Keertana! I'm glad you finally read this. Though I do see this as a love story, just one that is unconventional. Maybe it's not a romance? But I like how Lou changes through her relationship with Will as she does fall in love with him, and how it's clear that their emotional bond is so much stronger than what she has with Patrick. Patrick also annoyed me a great deal, and I think he persisted in this novel long past his expiration date. I like your point about what a "full life" means. Will believes that Lou needs to travel to experience a full life, though having a full relationship with your family and friends and a job that you love can also be seen that way. The only way Lou can travel in the end is really because of Will. I got so caught up in the emotions of this at the end that it was hard for me to think beyond that and analyze the story, and maybe that's the point you're making here. But you have tremendous insight as always.

  10. I'm happy to hear you found this to be an excellent novel, despite the issues you found within. I really do want to read this one.

  11. Oh I don't think this is the one for me right now. I need something a bit more... happy? Not quite happy, but not sad either. Still, you have me intrigued but perhaps I would put this one off for another day.

  12. I totally agree that this book is great for a lot of reasons but just the fact that the author never sugarcoats things is what makes it even better. I didn't like Patrick either so I totally agree about that. I'm glad you enjoyed this one overall. Great review, Keertana :)

  13. Keertana, it is always such a pleasure to read your reviews. You make me think of books in vastly bigger ways than I previously have. Looking for themes and messages I might not have seen otherwise. I haven't read any reviews of this one, but you have made me want to read this. Thank you.

  14. yep, I totally agree that it's not a love story. I think it's hard to think that though because the cover reminds me of Valentine's Day and it just LOOKS like a romance story. interesting point about privilege, I can definitely see that. Just One Year felt SUPER privileged to me but I guess I never felt that in Me Before You bc the focus is primarily on Lou? I know some people aren't keen on the message of the ending though.


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