I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall under the highly infectious spell of the onerous and brutally sarcastic Will Traynor. From his peculiar choice of greeting when meeting Louisa Clark to his scowls at anything remotely enjoyable she suggested—I couldn’t help it, I fell madly in love with the guy. And honestly, I think that’s the feeling that Jojo Moyes’s ME BEFORE YOU was meant to evoke. But after a love like Will, what next?
Spoilers ahead, proceed with caution.
ME BEFORE YOU is not an “expect the unexpected” kind of read. The moment you meet Will Traynor—once a Master of the Universe, now a quadriplegic bound to a wheelchair—and his new aide, Louisa Clark—an aimless twentysomething hiding from her potential in her parents’ claustrophobic home—you know the unlikely pair will fall in love. And even I knew that Lou’s efforts to reignite Will’s love of life in 6 months would not change his mind about going to Dignitas, where he would eventually pass away by assisted suicide.
Though it deals with tough issues, ME BEFORE YOU does everything the “girl-meets-boy” story is meant to: brings together two unlikely souls, follows them on life-changing adventures which turn romantic (because of course), and then rips your heart out. But on the very last page, an endearing posthumous letter from Will to Lou gives hope of an all-right tomorrow.
I’m sorry to say, this hope is short-lived in Moyes’s follow up novel, AFTER YOU. When I dove in, I was hoping to find a plot twist: Will never died; instead they secretly froze him until technological and medical advances would award him the life he once had. However, romanticizing this very real circumstance is what garnered backlash for the movie adaptation of ME BEFORE YOU. AFTER YOU quickly establishes itself as a reality check, instead of a happily-ever-after fantasy. Will’s death is no longer the neatly packaged denouement to a classic romance trope, and the messiness of grief takes ahold of Lou’s life.
She’s living on the last dollars that Will left her to kickstart a new adventure. Though she’s made progress by moving into her own flat in London, her ambitions of re-enrolling in school have significantly stalled. One night, a freak accident forces her to re-examine her grief and whether she has truly forgiven Will for ending his life despite their love.
During a long recovery from the accident, not only does Lou join a bereavement support group and open herself up to love again, she also meets someone from Will’s past whose desire to learn more about him reopens emotional wounds in Lou that hadn’t healed properly. Only this perspective allows Lou to finally process her six-month relationship with Will.
ME BEFORE YOU is a satisfying read with a bittersweet, tear-jerking finish, but you’d be cheating yourself if you missed the sobering follow-up, AFTER YOU, about living boldly when life knocks you down and how the strength to do so is not so easily attained.