Book Review

Jojo Moyes Double Feature: ME BEFORE YOU and AFTER YOU

I was working in a local Barnes and Noble when Me Before You first came out. I remember there were so many people buying this book, whether for themselves or their family and friends for the holidays. Curious, I read the dust jacket and though, “This book sounds predictable and corny. I don’t ever see myself reading this.”

Well, I was wrong. Obviously. Not only did I read this book, but I devoured it. I loved it. It was so much better than I ever could have imagined. I mean, I listened to the 14+ hour audiobook in 3 days. Who does that? (Me, apparently.)

* * *

moyes-jojo-me-before-you-coverTitle: Me Before You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Format: audiobook, read by Susan Lyons, Anna Bentink, Steven Crossley, Alex Tregear, Andrew Wincott, Owen Lindsay
Start Date: January 23, 2017
End Date: January 27, 2017
Rating: 4.5 stars

The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life – or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else’s life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window – is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are. Or how you might seem to other people.

Me Before You tells the story of Louisa Clark, a seemingly ordinary girl with a seemingly ordinary life. She has never traveled nor really done anything entirely interesting with her life. However, that all changes when she takes a job as a caretaker to Will Traynor, a caustic paraplegic man who was used to be able to doing things with his life, whether it was his job in London or climbing mountains or conquering the world. The moment she steps through that door, both of them begin a journey, one that will take them beyond where they ever thought they might go. Louisa is determined to give Will a purpose, to make him see that life is worth living, even if he can’t yet see it.

This book is not my typical read. I think I avoided it for so long because I am not a fan of sappy romances or wildly predictable books. This is a book I usually tend to stay away from for these reasons.

That is unfortunate, because this book was anything but typical. Well, maybe a little bit typical, but it had something more. There was a distinct spark that permeated the pages of Moyes’ Me Before You. There was a little romantic tension between the two main characters, but that was to be expected. Their relationship started out as professional, which eventually morphed into a friendship where they were able to understand each other on a level that transcended anything else they had ever known. It was sweet and funny and real.

I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I enjoyed Moyes’ characterization of both Will and Louisa. I loved watching Louisa change: how she came into her own, how she learned to take charge, how she grew and developed as a character. I also loved watching Will: watching as his course exterior slowly started to chip away. Camilla, Will’s mother, was also an interesting character with complex motives: a woman who loved her son but didn’t know how best to help him, who wanted to do what was best for him but didn’t want to lose him.

The ending was not what I thought it would be. Without giving anything away, I was on the edge of my seat toward the end, hoping – along with Louisa and Camilla – that Louisa’s efforts would be enough. A book hasn’t made me feel as emotionally attached to the characters in a long time. It was refreshing and exciting and ultimately emotionally exhausting.

This was an unexpectedly good read. The narrators were very good, and I felt that they brought something extra to the book. I don’t know if I would have liked it as much reading it rather than listening to it.

 * * *

WARNING:

THE FOLLOWING REVIEW OF AFTER YOU CONTAINS SPOILERS. DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DID NOT READ ME BEFORE YOU.

YOU HAVE BEEN ADEQUATELY WARNED.

* * *

moyes-jojo-after-you-coverTitle: After You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Format: audiobook, read by Anna Actin
Start Date: January 31, 2017
End Date: February 8, 2017
Rating: 3.5 stars

 

After You picks up where Me After You left off. The title implies that, after Will and his letter, Louisa will be off gallivanting around Europe – and possibly the world – experiencing new things and exploring her options. However, that is not the case. Instead, we get Sad, Grieving, Depressed, No-Fun Louisa who spends all of her days moping about in her London flat (paid for by Will from his will). Not exactly the sequel I was initially hoping for.

I think this is the sentiment that a lot of readers had: After You just did not hold that same spark that Me Before You had. The Louisa in Me Before You was vibrant and full of life. The Louisa in After You was gray and bland.

The book itself wasn’t boring. There were a lot of things I liked. I liked the introduction of Lily because it gave Lou’s life some purpose again – even if Lily was quite the brat at times. I liked Ambulance Sam and their dynamic, even if it got off on a rocky start. I liked that Louisa was human, that she was grieving, and that she was learning to find herself again.

Alternately, there were a few things that I did not really like about this book.

I did not like her fall off of the building in the very beginning because I felt it was tropey. It was a vehicle to two destinations: one, to make her feel vulnerable and unable to do things for herself, like Will; and two, it was a means to meet Ambulance Sam.

I also have mixed feelings about her mother’s feminist metamorphosis. On one hand, it was great to see a loving and caring family woman come into her own, through taking night classes and really learning how to be independent (e.g. coming to London on her own). I guess it was also interesting to see the dynamic of how this strained her previously-strong relationship with her more traditional husband who didn’t quite understand her transformation – not because he was a misogynist pig, but because he could not quite grasp the fact that his wife wanted something more out of life. However, I think this side story took away too much from Louisa’s story. It was kind of interesting, to an extent, but it was also kind of in-your-face. It wasn’t just about Lousia’s mother wanting to be a strong and independent woman. It became more about her wanting to completely shed any bit of her former personality that had to do with feminine domesticity. It became about her not wanting to do literally anything that could be misconstrued as oppressive or sexist – like not shaving her legs. I mean, that’s great if you don’t want to (it’s totally a personal choice), but it was really unnecessary to the plotline. Well, almost unnecessary, because it did provide a point of initial discontent between the spouses.

However, I must say, I am pleased with the overall ending.

I will say that this book wasn’t anything that I thought it would be. It was not nearly as good as the original was – what sequel is? – but it was still a good read in its own right. I did think there was a spark there. Maybe it wasn’t as bright, but that was because it was shrouded in Louisa’s grief.

This audiobook was totally engrossing. Anna Actin, the narrator for this sequel, did a really great job Her narration made the book come alive. I don’t know I would have enjoyed it nearly as much if I read rather than listened, but either way.

If you read and enjoyed Me Before You, I would definitely read this book if you are hungry for more. Just a word of warning, though: don’t expect too much. It is not the same book, and even though the same characters are here, it does not quite have the same dynamic as the first. If you are to read it, maybe read a book in between so you have time to recover emotionally. (I know that’s what I had to do!)

Overall, it was enjoyable and tied up the story rather neatly, which I can appreciate.

We stood in silence on the roof and watched the balloons sail upward, one by one into the clear blue sky, growing smaller and smaller until they were somewhere infinite, unseen.

* * *

I let mine go.

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