There will not be a synopsis of this book before the review, so I’m diving right in! Spoilers abound!
I’ll start off by saying that I’m always skeptical to read books like this because it’s very easy for me to tell when the author hasn’t done enough research. I feel disjointed, and I feel less empathy for the characters who are not the ones injured or sick. I know that may sound a little heartless, but please consider this perspective:
Almost a year ago, I was in a major car accident where someone came into my lane and hit my car head-on. I was lucky to survive, but the injuries that followed did not make life easy for the coming months. I wasn’t paraplegic like Will, but it’s amazing how much a broken fibula and other severe internal bruising could mess up your life. Since the fracture was on my knee I had to wear this awful leg brace. I could not walk, shower, or even go to the bathroom by myself for weeks. Some days it was even hard for me to lift myself up in bed to eat.
Even then, I learned that all I wanted was control over my own life. When you’re stuck in a situation where you were basically forced into an injury, everything has to be done for you. When everyone, including insurance companies, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and your parents control everything else you do, the one thing you want most is even a small decision in how your life is run. If I was feeling that after just a few weeks of being bed-ridden and after months of physical therapy, I can’t even imagine what someone like Will or any other paraplegic or disabled person would feel at that point in their life. That’s where I felt disconnected with this book. Me Before You pandered to the masses so they can learn to go out and enjoy life, when really the situation is much deeper than that. It’s a great message, but this book barely scratched the surface and suffered from the lack of perspective of Will’s complicated feelings. That’s the biggest flaw.
They presented Will as being incredibly selfish and many characters (except Nathan and finally Lou in the end) failed to realize that even though he lived this amazing life and still had the wealth and opportunity to do so in the future, they could not change his mind for Dignitas. I personally believe there were not enough characters around to understand him and to introduce his perspective. I absolutely despised how cold and detached his parents were as characters. Camilla was okay…sometimes. Her involvement in the beginning of the book showed some caring and want to improve her son’s life, but after that, she was gone for the majority of the time. It’s so unrealistic to me to see such a lack of involvement from the parents. It was also difficult to read Lou’s naivete, thinking that her love was good enough to save Will.
I feel like this story gave me a very different perspective on the title Me Before You. I see the title meaning as, “I’m putting myself before you”, not, “me before I met you” like many people seem to interpret this to be. Will put himself before anyone else, and even though Lou learned it the hard way, by the end she started putting her own needs and wants before that of her family’s or anyone else’s. This is not a bad thing.
The situation portrayed in this book is not true for all disabled people and paraplegics. Many learn to adjust and live their life. One of my favorite parts was when Lou did more online research and started connecting with others who were in similar situations to Will’s. It would have been a great addition to have introduced more characters like that, some who could understand Will’s perspective and THEN give appropriate advice. Mary at the wedding was a great but subtle addition as someone who could understand Will. It would’ve been a lot better to have more of that then all of the characters thinking they knew what was best for him, despite Will’s protests.
Writing-wise, the switch of perspectives between the other characters like Camilla, Steven, Treena, and Nathan took me out of the moment during the main story. All that was needed for those sections was a candid moment between those characters and Lou, an entire chapter dedicated to their perspectives was not necessary. The story also progressed at a very strange pace for me. For the first half, the author did a great job of introducing characters and showed a great progression of Will and Lou’s relationship. Towards the second half however, some very important development scenes that could’ve been expanded showed very few mundane details.
I won’t say I didn’t enjoy moments in this book. The dialogue was clear and playful and the cast of characters, especially in Lou’s family, had unique and enjoyable quirks that created an interesting family dynamic. Lou was endearing in the fact that she was a young woman who didn’t like to take risks or didn’t know exactly what she wanted in life. That’s certainly something readers could connect with, maybe more so than they’d like to admit; everyone has gone through a phase like that in life. I’m not too keen on the use of Lou’s rape as a plot device (mostly because it’s been over-used), but I thought it was handled well overall. The conflict between Lou and Patrick was interesting too. I was rooting for them to break up all along, and it showed another great realistic life event of people stuck in long-term relationships just because they aren’t sure there is anything else out there.
Look, I know that I have the unpopular opinion about the impact of this book and I talked a lot about Will. But from the perspective of someone who’s been through these nasty situations, I’m tired of reading books that don’t properly capture the experience, pain, and recovery with everyone involved.