Series: Me Before You #1
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on 2016-04-26
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
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Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
A love story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?
I’ll be completely honest and admit that I chose this book specifically for our He Said/She Said reviews as a small way to get back at my husband for choosing such a boring, sexist book last month. I wanted to read this book since I saw the trailer for the movie and thought it sounded like an interesting story. Because up until then, I really knew nothing about the book except that EVERYONE loved it. And I tend to shy away from books like that a little. So I never got around to reading it. Until now. Now I can say I’ve read it and I can see the movie if I want to, though I probably won’t. I also know only a little bit of what my husband thought of the book. I watched him read it, constantly asking him what part he was reading, what had happened, what he thought. I think I may have annoyed him a bit but I saw some of his reactions, and we’ve talked a little bit about it too, so I think I know what’s coming with his review. But I haven’t read his actual review because I want mine to be completely independent. So here are his and hers review for Me Before You. *Warning, they’re probably a little spoiler-y.* Also, if you loved the book, you may not like these reviews…
As you might imagine, I don’t read much (i.e. any) contemporary romance. I do watch indie comedies, including romantic comedies, and this book definitely has that vibe. In fact, I think the book feels a lot like a movie in its treatment of the plot and characters. There are humorous moments — but nothing really funny, and the plot and character advancement is kind of gimmicky and not that deep.
Two things really bother me about the book, but I can’t decide how much to hold these against the overall experience. First, there are three (I believe, without going back to count) chapters that are not told from the main character’s perspective. I’ve read quite a few books, particularly since Game of Thrones became popular, that switch POV between chapters, and I am fine with it. However, when the author uses just three chapters for this shift and only gives each character one chapter, it feels much more like the author needed a gimmick to advance the plot/characters in a way she couldn’t figure out how to manage from the main character’s perspective. This was particularly true with the chapter from the mom, whose chapter is clearly inserted to make us feel more sympathetic, and from the nurse, who basically tells us that the characters are (spoiler — although it is a contemporary romance…) falling for each other. None of the chapters added much, and they were jarring.
The second part of the book that really bothered me was the use of the main character’s rape. The main character is the most boring protagonist you can imagine — this is part of why I see an analogy to a lot of indie dark comedies. She lives with her family, has a better sibling, doesn’t have hobbies, doesn’t have a career. She doesn’t do or think anything interesting. Then, a good chunk of the way through the book, we get glimpses of a scene that tell us that she was raped as a teen and that is why she has become a boring shut in. Now, I completely realize and sympathize that this kind of traumatic experience could, and sometimes does, lead people to exactly this type safe and non-adventurous life. However, many people who haven’t been traumatized are also boring. The way the author introduces the topic (again at three points, I believe), it very much felt to me that the author realized: ‘Hey, this character is really boring! I’d better explain why she’s boring. I know! She isn’t boring at all… she’s just being safe because she was traumatized. There’s already a physical injury in this book, so I need something psychological. Rape it is then.’ We all know the stats about attacks by strangers versus known people, and this was by strangers. The second time the scene comes up, the character is basically told that she should get over it, and she does. Luckily, she had blacked out, so she didn’t actually remember what happened anyway, and after getting this advice, she decides that she should move on and basically does. On the one hand, I am glad that the book didn’t go into a ton of serious detail on this issue. There are a lot of very important women in my life, and I have enough concerns and fears about assault and rape in the real world to want to spend time thinking about it in fiction. That’s not my thing. But, on the other hand, if you are going to use it in your book, it feels really uncomfortable to me to basically use it as a plot device.
The way I feel about the author’s use of this subject raises similar concerns for me about paralyzation and assisted suicide. All I am going to say on it is that I hope the author has some experience with the subject or at least really did some research and didn’t just use this as an interesting backdrop for her love story. That would be exploitative and unfortunate.
On the whole, I didn’t really dislike the book. If I give the author the benefit of the doubt on the main issues, then I would say it was very OK overall. That’s probably about the highest I can imagine rating any contemporary romance. Despite the boring main character, she at least wasn’t vapid, and the story moved along (sometimes amusingly quickly). Nonetheless, I can’t bring myself to recommend the book to anyone, and I certainly will not be watching the movie.
So. This book. Everyone loves it. And I mean EVERYONE. So I sort of expected to love it too. I had no idea what the book was even about until I saw the trailer. And since I’ve wanted to see what the fuss is about and because I love Sam Claflin, I gave in and chose this book as a way to finally read it. And I’ll say up front, I am glad I read it. I think it’s always good to be able to read books like this that a lot of people have read so you can talk about them and actually know what you’re talking about. So I’m glad I read it for that reason. But…
I did not love this book. A maybe not completely legitimate reason for that is because I don’t like books that manipulate my emotions simply because they want to. I don’t love crying when reading a book, generally I like to be happy when reading, but there are plenty of books that I’ve loved because they are emotional. But I like it when they aren’t the only reason for the book. I want to feel emotions because I’ve connected with the characters and am invested in their stories, not because the author just wants to feed off of our collective sadness. I felt similarly with The Fault in Our Stars. And I know this is kind of a stupid reason, it’s why I listed it first, but I want to feel the emotions in a book because I’M feeling them, not because the author is leading me there all along. If that makes any sense at all.
My next reason for not liking this book is one I’ve mentioned before in reviews but I hate it when authors use rape as a plot device and nothing else. This might be slightly spoilery, I’m not sure, but when Lou was younger, she was raped. She doesn’t remember many specifics because she was really drunk and probably drugged but she is still dealing with the trauma of it because she has never dealt with it or told anyone about it. And that’s all fine. It’s not the fact that it happened or she doesn’t remember or is still dealing with it that bothers me, it’s the fact that the author pulls out the rape when she needs a reason for Lou to be doing or not doing something. Lou needs a reason to still be living in her small town? She’s afraid because of the rape. It couldn’t possibly be that she likes living where she is or her “small” job. That would be impossible because everybody knows you need to live a “big” life for it to really matter. Will needs to feel like he “saved” Lou. Take her back to where it happened and Will gets her through it. And those things are all fine because they are completely possible for her to react this way to those situations based on past events. But my problem is that the rape is not really addressed except when it’s necessary to explain something in the story. And then Lou is just fine. That’s why I have a problem with it. If you’re going to include rape as an important part of a character’s story, I’d like to see it dealt with and not just used.
One last thing. Probably. I kind of just hated everything else, too. I hated the random chapters we got at random parts of the book. Why can’t this information be shown to me in some other way than having to cut to a side character explaining the situation to me? I hated how Lou was treated by her family and Patrick. Pretty much everyone in this book is either completely selfish or a jerk. Except maybe Nathan. I could not get over that Lou’s family treated her like shit but her sister was SO selfish and Lou was supporting all of them and they still called her stupid and lazy and ugly. And then her mom at the end?! Seriously, WTF?! Oh, and that ending. That ending. Not just what happened, because in reality, it’s totally fine and I support that right. But as a reader, I’m left questioning the author and her reasons for ending it that way. Does she have any personal experience with quadriplegics? And yes, I realize that this is a fictional story, but it raises questions about the value of life and quality of life and who gets to choose how someone can live or die. And also, why would a relationship between an able-bodied person and a quadriplegic not work? While I appreciate the idea that completely changing for someone isn’t good and you still need to be yourself, why can’t the message be about love and how good it can be rather than that some guy is a quadriplegic now and there’s nothing he could possibly want to live for because his life is just that horrible. And maybe it was. Maybe my other thoughts are clouding my ability to see the true meaning clearly. I don’t know. I know it’s just one book and it’s fiction, but all of these questions make me wonder how much experience or research the author actually put into this book before putting it out into the world. And is it suppose to make me want to support assisted suicide or just make me realize that love is never enough? I don’t know.
I will say that this is probably a really great Book Club book because it brings up a lot of interesting topics. And while I had issues with the book myself, I can see why people love it. I still, however, would be on the fence about whether to recommend it or not. It would probably come with a list of warnings if I did. And maybe once I’m farther away from the experience of reading it, I’ll have a clearer and less emotional response to the book. But for now, I just didn’t love it.
What do you guys think? Did you read this book and love it? Are we overreacting to the wrong things? Should we just let everything go and just enjoy the book for what it is? Also, do you guys have any suggestions for books we should read together? The last two have been ones we didn’t love, which can be fun to discuss but not always fun to read. Let us know what you guys think!