I didn’t pick this book off the shelf. It probably would never have been my choice when perusing the bookstore. But, I found it on the first day of school in my desk. It had been left on the last day of school by a student as a thank you gift and it sat in my desk all summer long waiting to be read. Pulling the draw open and finding this bright red book staring up at me was quite surprising. Finding out that a student had chosen it for me was touching. Sadly, I thought when would I have time to sit down and read this? Then, Labor Day weekend had been a complete and utter wash out. It rained incessantly in Boston and the temperatures dipped low enough to put on cozy sweats. Under these conditions, I curled up on the couch and found myself with just enough time to read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.
I started the book out of a sense of obligation. A student had been thoughtful and purchased me an adventure in writing. It was my responsibility to read this novel so that when I thanked the young man, I could do so with the ability to share and discuss the plot of the novel. I was utterly surprised by how taken into the story I became. I pushed David away when he tried to interrupt my reading. I needed to know exactly what happened between Lou and Will. Set in the present, the novel follows Louisa (Lou) as she is searching for a job in a sleepy town in England whose main attraction is an old castle. There are not too many prospects for Lou and she finds herself going out to job interviews that are quite lacking and/or disgusting. After a number of factory jobs, Lou finally discovers a care-taker position for a quadriplegic man that pays quite a lot more than the going rate. Intrigued and really unable to let this opportunity pass her by, she responds to the add.
Will Traynor has spent the last two years confined to his wheelchair and trapped in a body that no longer allows him to experience his fast paced, high stakes lifestyle. Forced to withstand daily humiliations and degradations, he has tried to take his own life. His parents, though icy and distant, aren’t prepared to let Will give up on this new life even if it is one that he never imagined for himself. Hoping that they can convince him that life as a quadriplegic can be more, they are given six months by Will to prove it. In steps Lou, who unbeknownst to her is not being hired for her experience in adult care (since she doesn’t have any) but is being hiring for her attitude. Perhaps surrounding Will with the right people will change his plan of action and convince him not to take his life. Isn’t six months quite a long time after all to change someone’s outlook?
As the New York Times article noted, “Lou has never fully lived; Will has, but no longer can.” This odd duo embarks on a normal routine of life, love, pain, opportunity, loss, regret, doubt, and fear. The friendship that builds between these two unlikely individuals is poignant and endearing. Lou’s determination to impress Will and change his perspective forces her to also challenge herself to live outside of the expected life she planned for herself. As Schillinger reflected, “Moyes’s heroine, if Lou can be so styled, may not be heroic; her male counterpart may be nobody’s idea of a leading man — and yet with Lou and Will she has created an affair to remember.” As the months tick by in their story, it became my signal most important objective to read to the end of the novel to find out if Lou was “successful” in changing Will’s mind. Was Lou enough? Would Will still end his life? What would I do if I were in Will’s place? The final page of the novel left me…..