The Premise: Louisa "Lou" Clark is an unambitious girl living in a small town who finds herself jobless after being laid off from the local coffee shop where she has worked for years. Desperate for a job and despite her limited skill set, Lou manages to snag a job as an aide and companion for a quadriplegic named Will Traynor. Will is moody, sarcastic, and tries his best to make Lou uncomfortable when she starts the job, but Lou is determined to help support her parents despite her situation. One day, Lou overhears a conversation that shocks her--Will has made a deal with his parents that gives them 6 months time to prepare and come to terms with his wish to die. Confused and terrified, Lou doesn't know what to make of this development as she slowly realizes that she's fallen in love with Will. With time short and her emotions blazing, Lou races against the clock to try to change Will's mind before his 6 months are up.
**May Contain Spoilers**
The Players: Me Before You has a plethora of minor characters that help us to understand what Will's accident has done to the people around him. You have Will's mother, who can barely look at her physically broken son, Will's father, whose extramarital affair is in limbo due to his sons's state of existence, Will's friends, who have moved on but are unable to rectify their image of the Will they knew and the Will they see now, and Will's nurse, who best understand Will's sour nature and the severity of his paralysis. But the only characters that mattered to me here were Will and Lou, whose complicated and rather funny relationship from beginning to end is painfully bittersweet but curiously refreshing. Yet Me Before You is not just a love story about two people in extenuating circumstances. It is also a love story about life itself and how we can all live a little more if we just try.
The Question: No doubt a controversial subject, Me Before You deals with the moral and ethical implications of euthanasia -also known as assisted suicide. Will, paralyzed form the neck down, feels that his life is not worth living if he is only to be trapped in a deteriorating body plagued with sores and suffering from bouts of infections. In a beautiful but heartbreaking dialogue, Will states,
"The [chair] does define me. You never saw me before this thing. I loved my life, Clark. Really loved it. I loved my job, my travels, the things I was. I loved being a physical person. I liked riding my motorbike, hurling myself off buildings. I am not designed to exist in this thing and yet for all intents and purposes it is now the thing that defines me. It is the only thing that defines me."
But the people around Will desperately want him to live--not really for selfish (in the derogatory sense) reasons, but because they love him. But is love the wrong thing to act on, in this case?
Overall Impressions: I'm not going to spoil the ending for you by telling what happens at the end of Will's allotted 6 months. But I will tell you that the final chapters of this book had me in tears--tears of frustration, sadness, and relief in a combination that is hard to put into words. I was shouting at the book--shouting at Lou and at Will for doing the things they did, for saying the things they said. Yet the ending of the book was perfect because looking back, there was no other way it really could have ended. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters in this book--they were realistically annoying, flawed, whiny, silly. But they grew on me, and fast. Will is such a great character, despite his gloomy and sometimes chillingly calm attitude towards the planning of his own death. You can empathize with him because he's honest with himself at all times, and eventually, with Lou. As he interacts with Lou, he slowly opens up and becomes more like the person he was before the accident--witty, funny, caring, and deeply alive. But is it ever really enough for him? And Lou! The girl who started out without ambition, without an ounce of adventure in her blood, changes so profoundly because of how Will has shaped her outlook on the world. In their finest moments, Will and Lou represent each of us--forever regretting the things we didn't do when we had a chance, but also discovering that there are so many ways to change, even when we had never thought about it. My takeaway from Me Before You is so aptly penned by Will:
"You're going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. It always does feel strange to be knocked out of your comfort zone. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. I'm not telling you to jump off tall buildings, or swim with whales or anything, but to live boldly. Push yourself. Don't settle. Just live well. Just live."