This review will be as spoiler free as possible
So here we go. This book is filled with happy moments, sad moments, family and most importantly, love. If you have not read “Me Before You” yet I suggest that you go to the nearest bookstore and buy it or order it online. Because the experience of reading this book is nearly impossible to explain, but what I can say is that I wouldn’t mind reading it again. (Coming from the person who has read this book at lest five times. Please don’t judge me).
Recently it received some publicity when a film based on the book was released staring the one and only Khalesi. (That’s Amelia Clarke for you non-Game of Thrones watchers.) But as a reader, I want to convince you to give the book a try.
Not the norm
Meet Louisa Clark. Our very high-spirited, funny and entirely original leading lady. She has a quirky sense of style, is struggling to find a job and finally gets hired as a caretaker for Will Traynor. Will is a quadriplegic man who is sick of life at the point when we meet him and takes his frustration out on the girl hired to take care of him. In the beginning, Louisa and Will don’t really get along. But eventually they both realize that they love each other.
It might sound clichéd but “Me Before You” is not just a boy meets girl, fall in love and live happily ever after story. The characters for example do not fit the mold. Louisa is lovable, but also quirky to the point that she can’t be called typically attractive. Will could have been the traditional romantic hero, but because of tragedy he isn’t his former self. What we get instead is a romance between two people who in their own way do not fit into the world around them. They develop a relationship because of how they are able to influence each other.
There is also a lot of time devoted to the relationship between Louisa and her sister Katrina and Will’s relationship with his family. The point-of-view shifts to different characters so that we hear the story from varying perspectives. All of this comes together to create a complex narrative.
It also does not have the happy ending that most people would want from a romance novel. But it’s a happy ending in that fits the story. Yes, the book is based on a love story between a boy and girl. But it’s also about family relations, the bond between two sisters and the journey to find oneself. Hence while the ending is tragic (and a bit of a stretch) but it fits where the story is naturally progressing to.
Me Before You and the controversy
The film version of the book has been met with criticism. The chief complaint being that it depicts quadriplegics in a negative light. Some took issue with the fact that the story focuses on a character who has given up on life because of his disability.
I hadn’t read any of these articles while I was reading the book. But it would be incredibly unfair to write about the book and not mention such deep resentments. I can completely understand why people have taken the film’s promotional material in a negative light.
What I do want to mention is that in the book there is a very interesting and extended sequence where Louisa gets in touch with other quadriplegics. These people do not share Will’s sentiments. In fact, they haven’t let their physical impairments hinder their pursuit of full lives at all. They also try their hardest to encourage Will to cope with his own struggles.
In her TED talk, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie spoke about the danger of a “single story” and how restricting a people to a single story can reduce individuals to stereotypes. The idea that a disabled person is a depressed shell of a human is certainly a stereotype. But I feel that the book at least attempted to have more than a single story. So that it reads more like the struggles of an individual rather than a representation of all quadriplegics.
I don’t remember this being a significant part of the film. Which is a shame.
All in all, I have to say that I really liked reading this book. There were some issue. Some parts got really dark and this maybe a bit too upsetting for you. At the same time though there are some wonderful characters, some lovely scenes and a narrative that is simple enough so that most people will be drawn into it. Essentially, if you want a book that will make you cry and smile at the same time, then “Me Before You” is the one you should read.