The first time I heard about Jojo Moyes‘ Me Before You was when I saw the trailer for the movie online. It was no more than a thumbnail pic of Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin that called my attention, but all my fangirl alarms went off. I instantly knew that I was going to be deeply involved with whatever was beyond that thumbnail link. I would also be lying if I pretended like Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin weren’t the reason I eventually bought the book with the movie cover rather than the original. Because, when given the choice of having a book with or without Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke on the cover, you choose with every time.
The premise of the story is simple, and since we’re letting it all hang bare, I’ll just say it: it’s predictable AF. There are no spoilers here. Once you read the back cover you have a general idea of what is going to drive most of the story from beginning to end. Louisa Clark is hired by the Traynor family to care for and bring companionship to Will Traynor, who has been a quadriplegic since a tragic accident a few years before. The catch is that they’re all secretly hoping Louisa — or Lou, as she prefers to be called — will be inspiring enough in her quirkiness and unbreakable cheerfulness to help dissuade Will from his desire to end his life by means of euthanasia.
Of course, they’re going to fall in love, so let’s not even beat around the bush and pretend like we didn’t know. Thankfully, that’s not what the story will try to get to in all of its 448 pages (because even Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke aren’t pretty enough to keep me interested through a premise so bland). The question that persists once the stage is set is: Will love be enough? And that is why we read this story that seems almost offensively predictable at first sight.
There’s a major theme here which is blatantly denoted in the book’s title Me Before You, and yet it’s not something we realize until we’re deep into the story. At first sight, the story is about a girl trying to help a guy want to live again in spite of his limitations. Then, as we read on, a bigger, more important theme begins to arise, which is that of learning how to put ourselves before other people. Jojo Moyes does a wonderful job of subtly maintaining this dilemma in the readers’ mind — never quite rubbing our noses in it, but rather allowing it to weigh in the back of our minds, resurfacing over and over again in a slow crescendo, until we finally realize what the story is truly about at its core.
We see it come up, not just in Will’s determination to make a choice for himself, but also in Lou’s daily family life. From the very beginning we’re shown the constant sacrifices Lou makes for her family – from taking on crappy jobs that she hates to help support her large family, to giving her sister Trina the bigger bedroom at the house so that she and her son can be more comfortable. We see it even in Trina, who, in contrast to Lou, is not as willing to give up her own dreams and desires as easily. In spite of her family’s financial struggles, Trina chooses to go back to school and further her education, rather than keep working crummy jobs which leave her feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
The twist comes in that, while Lou is hired to try and influence Will to want to live again, it’s Will that ends up making it his own personal objective to get Lou to want more out of life. He sees that Lou has given up on life in a big way and settled for the crumbs it has offered her. While she’s busy trying to make him find purpose in life again, he pushes her to reach further and teaches her that life can be as small or large as she wants it to be.
Lou’s woes are ones that many people can relate to, the inner struggle between wanting to please ourselves and wanting to please others at the same time. How do we put ourselves first without seeming selfish and how do we put the needs of others first without giving up too much of ourselves?
It definitely calls for a balance that isn’t always easy to attain. In Lou’s case, we see that sometimes, no matter what choice you make, sacrifices always have to be made. In the end, it just comes down to which choice you are able to live with more.
Ultimately, this story isn’t about the will they/won’t they dilemma that plagues most romance stories. It breaks the mold in this way. I think it’s also necessary to point out that there’s a balanced romance between Lou and Will. Unlike many other romance novels, the main characters aren’t consumed by their feelings for each other; they still have other aspects of their lives to occupy their time. They are whole people outside of their relationship with each other.
All in all, Me Before You will cause you to be as torn as the characters are – flip-flopping with every chapter on what you hope the final outcome will be, wondering with endless indecision what you would do in their place. This is a novel that presents you with the wrappings of a simple romance story but actually gifts you with something that’s much more valuable. It carries with it a strong message that will hopefully resonate with all its readers, and prompt us to ask ourselves the question: What are we doing with our lives to ensure our own personal contentment?