Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books; 369 pages; $27.95).
“Tell me something good,” the quadriplegic Will Traynor commands his caregiver Louisa Clark in Jojo Moyes’ British bestseller Me Before You.
Will is an ex-“Master of the Universe” type who once had everything his heart craved: good looks; intelligence; the perfect job; great wealth; an active social life; a beautiful girlfriend; whirlwind vacations; four working limbs. An accident left Will paralyzed from his upper chest down, irrevocably altering his life and his outlook. The grim reality is that Will has lost the desire to live. He detests his wheelchair and wants only to end his life.
Enter Lou, a young woman who really has not even lived. In fact, she’s never even been outside the tiny village she calls home and can barely drive a car. While Will is limited physically, Lou is emotionally stunted. Years previously, she was brutally raped and has been living with the pain ever since. Her boyfriend, Patrick, is more interested in training for a marathon than he is in her. She just lost her job at the Buttered Bun and needs a job to help support her family. Lou turns down a position as adult chat line supervisor to become Will’s caregiver.
Lou makes it her mission in life to coax Will back into the world of the living. As she takes him to horseraces, to the seashore, and to a wedding, Lou tries to convince Will that he still has a life left to live, even though it’s quite different from the way it was before.
While Lou brings some sunshine into Will’s stormy new life, he works to broaden her horizons in Pygmalion fashion. He introduces her to literature, music, movies, stylish clothing, and correct grammar. In short, Lou becomes cultured during her time with Will.
Moyes creates exquisite juxtaposition in Me Before You. Will is bound by a wheelchair; Lou is constrained by the past. Each has a dazzling and lasting effect on the other and on those who read Moyes’ deeply moving and heartfelt work.
This is a story that will resonate with readers because of its deeply flawed protagonists, a dynamic duo, who play off each other on every page. In Me Before You, Moyes embraces controversial topics, such as assisted suicide, dying with dignity, and date rape—issues many authors typically ignore. Fair warning: Me Before You is a tearjerker.