“I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.”
Jojo Moyes‘ 2012 best-selling book, Me Before You, tells the story of a 26-year-old girl from a small English town, Lou Clarke, who has just lost her job in the local cafe. With only one option left at the job centre, Lou is employed as a carer by the wealthy Traynor family, despite having no skills or experience, to help support her struggling family. Here, Lou is placed in charge of Will, a once successful man who enjoyed all aspects of his life, who is now a quadriplegic, paralysed from the neck down after being involved in an accident. As Lou attempts to show Will what life can be like if he opens his mind, Will encourages Lou to live her life to the fullest as an unexpected relationship blossoms.
The following post is a review of the book only. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
Me Before You is a story impossible not to fall in love with. The characters are so beautifully crafted that I cried more than once reading about how their relationship progressed. Even before there’s any inclination of romantic feelings from either characters, it’s obvious that they have a deep connection, and their emotions are explored so well that you can really get inside both of their minds.
Me Before You isn’t a young adult book, but it does share similar themes. Maybe it’s because the relationship is so unlikely and the romance is so ambitious, but the story does have a feel of fantasy to it, even if the characters’ struggles are realistic and insightful. That being said, it’s incredibly easy to engage with, which is why the two lead characters are such a joy to follow.
The upcoming adaptation has already had a lot of criticism because of the book’s somewhat controversial story. Protesters at the film’s premiere held posters castigating it as a “disability snuff movie”, commenting that the film gives audiences the message that if you’re a disabled person then you’re better off dead.
But not all of us will see it that way. Personally, I believe that romances have to adapt to the times and they have to find something to give them a sense of originality. There’s a lot of work being put in by the media over the past few years to get audiences to see the talents and abilities of disabled people and to fight against prejudices, so it wasn’t going to be long before authors started putting them as the central characters in their romances and young adult fantasies.
And that’s all that Jojo Moyes has done, centring her story on a quadriplegic man who happens to find himself at the centre of a romance. The romance side of the story has nothing to do with Will’s situation. Unlike the trailer emphasises, we very rarely know how Will is feeling, as it focuses on Lou’s change in character and her subsequent feelings towards him. Her love grows as a result of Will’s determination to better her as a person since he cannot live his own life to the fullest, so to call it a “disability snuff movie” is unfair.
Where the criticisms seem to be putting their focus on is with the stories ending, however. Without giving away any more spoilers than the trailer reveals, Will must decide whether he wants to continue living or not. Now, Moyes isn’t saying that this is the case for every wheelchair-bound person – hell, such romantic stories aren’t the case for most people in general – but she has created a unique story about a single, fictional person, who is encountering a unique, personal struggle.
Will’s views are that if he can’t be the person he wakes up wishing he was every morning, then what’s the point? But she’s not saying that every person with a disability feels this way. Lou’s intent is to persuade Will otherwise, but what the real story is about is how Will comes to making this decision for himself, regardless of the love story that feels more like a sub-plot. In my opinion, it doesn’t give the message that Will is better off dead, only that we should all be free to make our own decisions in life.
There’s also some criticisms of the book about the selfishness of both lead characters, which I do have to agree with, in parts. But isn’t selfishness only a flaw of human nature? Both characters have their moments where we see them under the wrong light, but it all comes around in the end, showing only the torturous conflicts of our minds when deciding between what’s right and what’s wrong, and how to take into account other people’s feelings when trying to balance our own emotions.
It’s the exploration of these complicated issues that make the book such an emotional read. It will make you smile so much that you will be crying from happiness as well as sadness, as Will and Lou make two of the sweetest and likeable central characters that you will read about this year.
Me Before You was adapted into a film in 2016, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below: