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The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Book Review: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books/Viking; 384 pages; $27.95).

           girl This book is not just about a painting; it’s not just about a wife left behind during wartime; it’s not just about a young widow whose husband died unexpectedly; it’s not just about a random girl a guy meets in a bar; it’s not just about a bitter woman whose German husband was an officer occupying a foreign country; and it’s not just about a beloved sister whose family never spoke of her again.  The title of Jojo Moyes’ incredibly affecting and thought-provoking third novel The Girl You Left Behind (her second was the 2012 breakout word-of-mouth bestseller Me Before You) has multiple meanings throughout her absorbing narrative.   One thing, though, is certain: her powerful female characters will linger long after you close the book.

Employing a dual narrative format, Moyes moves from World War I-era occupied France to 2006 London.  In 1916, Sophie struggles to feed her family; she watches as her family and her village collapse.  Her husband fights for France, while Sophie skirmishes just as he does but on another battlefield, one immensely more complicated.  After German forces take control of her family’s hotel, Sophie and her husband’s painting, The Girl You Left Behind, draw the eye of the Kommandant.  When the enemy takes her spouse prisoner, Sophie will use every means at her disposal to free him.  In 2006, Liv labors to stay in the home her late husband, an architect, built.  Bills pile up, and work is difficult to find.  She cherishes a piece of artwork her husband gave to her as a wedding present during their honeymoon to Barcelona.  Entitled The Girl You Left Behind, the painting symbolizes their happy life together.  When Liv learns the painting was perhaps a spoil of war, she is determined to fight to keep her most prized possession.

Both Sophie and Liv are strong women who threaten to leap off Moyes’ pages, and thank goodness for that.  I loved these ladies; moyesthrough her narrators, Moyes explores such universal themes as conflict, faithfulness, survival, loss, restitution, property rights, and love.   I identified with both women equally, even though Moyes writes them very differently, varying perspective and tense as she tells their stories.

Equally impressive and bold are Moyes’ minor female characters: Mo, lovingly quirky, gives Liv a dose of tough love; Louanne Baker, brash and ballsy American reporter covering the American liberation of Nazi concentration camps, who comes alive in her journals; and Liliane, perhaps the bravest in the whole book, who risks her life for her village and for her country.

If you enjoy reading novels set during wartime (like Sarah’s Key) or stories in which artwork features prominently in the story (such as Pictures of an Exhibition or The Art Forger), I highly recommend The Girl You Left Behind.  Moyes’ tale will resonate with anyone who has ever fought for the person or thing she loves most in the world.  I never thought Moyes would ever be able to top Me Before You, but, amazingly, she does!  Some advice—don’t let this be the book you left behind.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes is the She Reads October Book Club Selection.  To read more reviews of the book, enter exciting giveaways, connect with other readers, and discuss the story, please visit She Reads.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Pamela Dorman Books; 369 pages; $27.95).

me before you

            “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.

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Spotlight on Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is getting lots of blog and word-of-mouth praise.  I thank my Twitter friends for telling me about this phenomenal story.

me before you

 

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

Moyes writes an inspirational story, yes inspirational even with some rather grim subject matter.  Not since The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce have I read such an inspiring story, a tale that will make you want to be a better person.

Me Before You is also a book about love, but there is nothing sappy within these pages.  It’s not a romantic love story, per se, but more of a love that only the best friends can share.  The love between Lou and Will is an unlikely love that only develops from the closest, most intimate relationships.  Moyes tells such a deeply moving and heartfelt story.  Each page is full of emotion; each character is fully and vividly drawn.

I highly recommend MBefore You.  You will laugh, you will cry, and you may even throw some things.  But you  will never forget Lou and Will and the incredible journey they undertake together.

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