Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review: Me Before You

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***spoilers included***

When I rated this book upon completion, I quickly gave it five stars.  I'm not a fan of the star rating because, really, to share my thoughts on a book takes more than merely assigning a number of stars.  My justification for a five-star rating is a book that is a page turner or one I can't put down, has good character development and a thought-provoking story line.  This book has all of those qualities.  But, the story itself has kept me thinking on this for a few days, which also makes it a five-star book.

I'll preface this review by stating that I listened to this book on Audible, so even though I didn't have "pages" to turn, when I'd listen to this book while in my car, I'd reach a destination and be bummed I had to pause the story.  That's how I define an audiobook read that's great.  

The story is set in England and features two main characters - Louisa Clark and Will Traynor.  Louisa, a Cafe worker who recently lost her job to the Cafe's closing, is looking for employment and finds herself as the caregiver of a quadriplegic, Will.  The story ensues of the challenge of Louisa and Will learning how to tolerate each other and eventually finding love between them, a certain unlikely pair.  

Louisa has little direction in her life.  Her paycheck at the Cafe helped support her family, putting her family's needs ahead of her desires.  She's quirky and very lovable for her spunk to not let the challenge of caring for a quad bring her down.  Will had been a successful businessman when an accident put him in this paralyzed position.  Strikingly handsome paired with his success meant he had lived a vibrant life...until now.  And his bitterness toward the events of his life and his desire to not live was evident.

During her time as his caregiver, Louisa was told by Will's mother of his imminent plan.  Six months he has asked to be taken to a hospital in Switzerland that would assist in his suicide.  Camilla, Will's Mom, hired Louisa in hopes she could change his mind and keep Camilla's son alive.  The burden was big for Louisa now.

Through many circumstances and experiences, Louisa began to fall in love with Will, though it seemed far fetched to her.  We learn toward the end of the story that Louisa gave Will a reason to get up every day, knowing that his life would not get better, but only decline.  Louisa declared her love, but was denied by Will in accepting her love. The touching scene between Louisa and Will when she fully declares her love initially is relieving and heart-wrenching.  Even more tortuous is the scene when he is in the Switzerland hospital preparing to end his life and she, again, declares her love.  Unwilling to accept it, Will moves forward with his plan against the wishes of Louisa and his family.

The end of the book goes into much more detail of the final days of Will Traynor and the days to follow, which are equally intriguing.  It sets up for JoJo Moyes sequel, After You, perfectly.  I expected to shed tears, but though I was sad, I was more discouraged at the underlying story line.  

Will had reduced the meaning of his life to his business success and physical abilities.  When that was taken from him, he no longer wanted to live.  He felt like he had no control over what happened, and this assisted suicide was a way to take back that control and end the insignificant life he felt he had.  Of all the good of this book, that is the most disappointing.  Yes, I know this is a fictional character, but I'm sure there are disabled people and quadriplegics in the world that feel the same way.  I couldn't help but think of Joni Eareckson Tada's story.  At 17, a diving accident put Joni in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic and today, at 66, she's become an artist, authored 17 books and has been an advocate for the disabled.  Her worth is not in what she could do before the accident but that God has used her in ways He couldn't have if she was an able-bodied woman.  What if Joni had decided to end her life so she could have some "control" over the circumstances that weren't in her control?  Many a life wouldn't have been touched these past almost 50 years.    

This book is a bit of a paradox for me.  Well-written, engaging, thought-provoking and a page turner.  I want to read the sequel and watch the movie that is coming out this summer based on this novel.  But I can't help but acknowledge the sadness of a life (albeit fictional) devalued.  I think this is more of a reality than we realize, and should encourage us to show others where their worth can be found.  

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