I decided to review these two books together because After You is the sequel to Me Before You. The books are written by Jojo Moyes and the first book is being made into a movie, which is currently being promoted quite a bit.
I went in not expecting much – thinking that Me Before You would be a Nicholas Spark-type book. I found the book to be more along the lines of John Green (which is a good thing!). Louisa, or “Lou” for short, is a girl who obtains a job caring for a quadriplegic named Will Traynor, despite having no previous caregiver experience. Will was once an active, wealthy man, but became paralyzed in an accident. At first, Will is terse and an all-around grump, but eventually Lou’s personality (predictably) wins him over.
**spoiler alert – don’t read anymore of this review if you don’t want some of the plot to be given away**
At first Lou is apprehensive about taking the job, fearing that she will have to provide more medical care. Her attitude changes about being a caregiver as she and Will become closer. When she starts to care for Will, the caregiving duties are not exactly duties anymore – her primary concern becomes Will’s comfort and well-being. Lou learns that the reason that the job is only for 6 months is because Will, tired of living in pain and being dependent on others for everything and with no hopes of his condition improving (only worsening), made a deal with his parents that he would give them 6 months if they would agree to let him go to a clinic in Switzerland that allowed assisted suicide. He already attempted suicide once so his parents agreed to the deal, fearing that if they didn’t agree to it, he would attempt another horrible suicide. His parents, especially his mom, hope to use the 6 months to convince their son that life is worth living. Upon learning of the 6 month deal, Lou colludes with Mrs. Traynor. Lou slowly gets him to agree to go on outings to show him that life is worth living. Lou slowly realizes that she has gone from being Will’s employee to his friend and then realizes that she is in love with him. The culmination of the outings is a trip to a different country with Will, Lou, and Will’s other caregiver, Nathan. At this outing, Will’s health improves and his attitude improves. Lou confesses her love to Will, thinking that he will change his mind about suicide now that they both admitted caring about one another. Unfortunately, Will tells Lou that her love isn’t enough. He doesn’t want to live his life in pain in a wheelchair and doesn’t want her to be stuck as his caregiver.
I liked the ending of the book because I felt that it was more realistic than the typical Hollywood ending where Will would have said that love conquers all and they lived happily ever after. Instead, the author stayed true to Will’s personality. Will was an intelligent, strong-willed person. He valued life and would not have decided upon assisted suicide lightly. The book also brought up the arguments for and against assisted suicide through the characters.
After Will dies, he leaves Lou some money so that she can be free of some of her financial worries and get out of their small hometown.
“After You” picks up after this. Lou has done some traveling and has bought a flat. She has a house, but hasn’t yet made it a home. She still mourns Will and, after accidentally falling off the roof of her flat, agrees to go to a grief support group to appease her parents, who think that her fall was intentional. She works at a bar at the airport that is put under new management, forcing her to wear a ridiculous uniform and hate her job.
The portrayal of grief in this book seemed realistic to me. It started out with almost unbearable pain, seeing and hearing the person everywhere and then slowly, the voice of the person fades, but there are moments of intense remembrance that make your knees buckle and take the wind out of you. My experience with grief has been limited to my parents passing, which was bad enough. I can only imagine what it must be like to lose your significant other.
Fantastically, a girl claiming to be Will’s daughter shows up at Lou’s door. Upon verifying her claim, Lou cares for the teenaged girl. Lou starts to get over her grief by caring for someone else – the girl reminds her of Will at times so there’s a part of her that thinks she is helping Will by helping his previously unknown daughter.
The whole bit with the daughter was a bit silly, in my opinion, but it allowed Lou a reason for recovery. She needed someone to tell her that it was okay to move on with her life and that she wasn’t doing a disservice to Will’s memory by moving on. I understand why the author introduced the daughter – I still found it to be a ridiculous plot device in an otherwise believable book.
The introduction of Lou’s new love interest was well done. Sam the ambulance guy was a likeable character and I found myself being okay with his relationship with Lou.
“Me Before You” was definitely the better of the books, but “After You” allows readers to have some insight into what happens to Lou afterwards. “Me Before You” dealt with the issue of assisted suicide and “After You” dealt with its aftermath, not just the psychological effects, but social ramifications and the grief associated with loss.