Friday, February 1, 2013

Guest Book Review: Me Before You

By Allie Smith

Wow. Seriously, wow. I love this book and it’ll stay with me for a while, because I can’t stop thinking about it. The title, Me Before You, even haunts me because it’s how I feel about this book. The author, Jojo Moyes, has ensured that I will never look (or pretend I don’t see) a person in a wheelchair in quite the same way again. It also unsettled me because I keep considering, or rather fearing, what I’d do if I became a quadriplegic. Or my husband? Or my children? Yet I don’t regret reading the book, because I smile when I think about Will and Louisa and keep wondering, what if circumstances could have been different for these two?

Will Traynor was a man about town who was the president of a company, a thrill-seeker and a ladies’ man who loved his life. Then he was cut down in his prime by a tragic accident. Now living as a quadriplegic, his days are filled with therapy, prescriptions, catheter changes and a humiliating dependence on others for everything. He lives under an oppressive cloak of depression, fear and pain. His family hires Louisa, to be his companion/caregiver during the day. It doesn’t take long for Louisa to figure out the true reason for her position, which is to ensure that Will doesn’t try to take his own life. However, once his family sees their connection, she’s asked to help them convince Will to want to live.

Many people have that moment in life when something occurs that forever changes everything, an event that literally makes the world stop because nothing will ever be the same. Will’s moment was obviously his accident, but Louisa had one too, causing her to pick the safest path in life. Louisa’s contentment with her small life frustrates Will. He is a prisoner of his own body and she is a prisoner of her fear. The twist in this story is that as Louisa attempts to convince Will that his life is not over, that he can still do things, that he can have a new life….Louisa starts to realize this may be true for her as well.

The caregiving relationship offers many opportunities for intimacy, even if forced. After bathing, feeding and dressing someone, you feel quite comfortable telling your secrets to them. The story really came alive when it was just Will and Louisa. One of my favorite parts of this book is the dialogue…the banter between the two is priceless. They stimulate one another. The irony is that, if not for the wheelchair, their lives would never have intersected.

I’m one of a handful of people who hasn’t read 50 Shades of Grey. Honestly, the story of a sado-masochist doesn’t appeal to me, but I can’t tell you how many people would say, “It’s a love story!” Well, I now find myself trying to persuade people to read a book about a quadriplegic. If the roles were reversed, I’d be rolling my eyes. But this IS a love story, and a beautiful one. They love each other and each one wants to save the other.

My biggest gripe about the story is that the gorgeous, funny and brilliant Will is a quadriplegic. I just kept praying for a literary miracle, so he’d get up and walk off into the sunset. Also, Will’s family was underdeveloped. There’s a chill between Will and his mom that is never quite explained, explored or resolved. His parents’ marriage is only being held together by Will’s condition, yet we don’t know why this is so. Don’t even get me started on Will’s sister. I think more time spent on his family and how they dealt with this tragic event would have added to the story.

Moyes is an amazing storyteller, capturing me right at the first chapter. She never ignored the fact that her hero was in a wheelchair and took the time to make sure the reader really understood what his daily existence was like. She successfully communicated his anger, fears and regrets. As a reader, I felt Louisa’s desperation to make Will’s life better. I desperately wanted to make it better, too. The ending wasn’t what I would have chosen, but I think Moyes wrote a realistic story that will leave you with bittersweet feelings, if somewhat of a broken heart. Once again, wow!

Thanks to Penguin for the book in exchange for an honest review. Check out their online book club kit!

Allie Smith, a former CPA who five years into her career decided that she hated working with numbers and willingly gave it all up to be a stay-at-home mom, lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and four children. In between carpool, play dates and refereeing the kids, she loves to read and write. The mother of a child with autism, she is currently working on a memoir of their journey.

More by Jojo Moyes:

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