Review: ‘Me Before You’ and ‘After You’ is reflective, emotional

by Ileana Sung | 9/20/18 2:05am

“You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.”

With this heartbreaking line that doesn’t easily leave the mind after the last page is turned, “Me Before You,” a novel by Jojo Moyes, and its sequel “After You” are books that make the reader reflect on their relationships and their values on life. While “Me Before You” makes one melancholy and stirs up various thoughts, “After You” provides hope and the subtle message that life goes on. The two books ultimately work together seamlessly to give a thought-provoking, emotional reading experience.

Louisa is a quirky girl living in a small town who loses her job and suddenly finds herself having to search for a new way to fend for herself. Will Traynor is an adventure loving, energetic and confident person who suddenly becomes paralyzed from an unfortunate accident. Their two worlds collide when Louisa starts working for him as a caregiver. The two characters, very different in personality and in their emotional and physical states, start building a cautious relationship. As their bond deepens, Louisa does her best to change Will’s outlook on his life that has taken an unwelcome, drastic turn. “After You” deals with her life after Will, the difficulty of moving on and the new relationships she builds with various unexpected people.

I remember first reading this book about two years ago, just before college, and being profoundly affected by the story, its characters and their different values and attitudes. I remember being very disappointed and saddened by Will, by how easily he gave up and by how selfish he seemed. Will was such a big influence on Louisa’s life, but Louisa didn’t affect him at all, I thought. Their relationship was unfair. What was the point of investing in something that would only end in hurt?

Being back on campus for fall — the busiest, liveliest time of all, with multiple social events and the influx of the energetic class of 2022 — suddenly reminded me of Moyes’s books, and I found myself revisiting the small English town of Will and Louisa. I even gave the movie a try — which, needless to say, did not measure up to the book at all.

Moyes has a distinct writing style of her own; it is that style that adds to the profound tone and emotions of the story and brings it to life. Both books are set in the present tense, and her simple, casual sentences read more like a screenplay and a journal entry, allowing for readers to immerse themselves and feel the raw, sincere feelings of the characters. Moyes does a good job of portraying the big and small everyday struggles of the characters seemingly effortlessly, starting from Will’s struggle at the horse race to Louisa’s struggle with her previous relationship. Her writing turns the story into anything but casual. I found myself becoming very emotionally attached and invested in both characters, and was able to understand the thought processes of Will as well as Louisa, which eventually had me contemplate the value of life, relationships, and the importance of people around you.

It’s easy to feel like giving up, especially when one is feeling overwhelmed or jaded about new environments, new people and new situations. The books and their elaborate portrayals of both characters and their internal struggles, however, can be a powerful source of reflection and inspiration. Will was a strong character who put up a good fight until the end, never faltering in his strong values and the way he wanted to live his life. He changed Louisa’s life in ways that no one else could have, which was how he left his mark behind. Louisa and her strength and kindness allowed Will to feel happiness in his last moments, and her long journey of recovery in “After You” shows that even when it feels like everything is falling apart, there is always a way back.

I would very enthusiastically recommend these books to anyone who is feeling the least bit down, having some fall blues or having doubts about how they should live their life or which path they should take. It is a wholly different, much more powerful experience than seeing the movie; not only does it provide thought-provoking conversation on the matter of euthanasia, it will also give the reader an opportunity to think deeply about their own values on life, lifestyle and the nature of relationships developed with the people around them — something that is definitely worth thinking about during fall term.

“He would be there, watching as my plane gathered speed and lifted into the great blue sky beyond. And with luck, he would be there, waiting, when I came home again.”

Everything can change, but life goes on. You just have to push yourself forward and make the most out of life however you can.

“Me Before You” and “After You” allows readers to realize that.