Book hangovers: that experience where you put a book down, but you can’t stop thinking about it for days, and you find yourself reluctant to start another book afterwards. This book was the first book in a long time that gave me a proper book hangover. It’s dark, it’s romantic, and it’s emotionally draining – and I loved it. Me Before You is the grown-up version of The Fault in Our Stars and is what Nicholas Sparks’ books aspire to be. It handles people with disabilities with respect and careful research and highlights the struggles and injustices they face.
They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely 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.
As I said above, I think the most important part about this book is how right it gets one of the main characters – Will’s – disabilities. Even though this book is primarily a romance (and a star-crossed one at that), it’s very clear early on that this author put a lot of time into researching what it means to be a quadriplegic and how that impacts quality of life, experiences with other people, and mental health. This book wasn’t all happy, lovey-dovey times – there are plenty instances of Will being treated differently or judged in public, him having scary health attacks that are related to his quadriplegia, and most prominently we get to see his mental state in regard to his diagnosis.
I realize there was a lot of controversy around this book and the way it ultimately ends, but from my point of view this book was about a man who lived big and had mental issues even before his accident and was not mentally equipped to deal with his diagnosis. This is a story that demonstrates that you can have every advantage in the world, but no amount of money can directly improve your mental health. The part of this book that I value most is that Louisa entered Will’s life at a very dark time, and while she does bring light to his life, she doesn’t magically fix his mental problems. I think the fact that this author showed a character with deep depression enjoying life at times but still ultimately having that depression was also extremely valuable. It didn’t trivialize mental health like a lot of books do – it demonstrated that depression isn’t a binary state – there are degrees of depression and it won’t just magically go away if you fall in love with someone. This book also teaches the hard lesson that no matter how much you want to fix or change someone else, that’s not how mental health works.
Louisa was a firecracker packed in bumblebee tights. She applied for a job that was well outside of her purview but still applied herself at every turn and was tough in the face of wills constant barbs and put downs. She was quietly tough and wasn’t perfect dash she had a fairly deep resentment for her sister who was able to move on in her life in ways Louisa had not yet done. She was impossible not to empathize with – she devoted herself to the cause of keeping Will alive, even when that was predictably a losing battle. Will on the other hand was fascinating – we got to see brief snippets of him before his accident juxtaposed with him after his accident and how that had taken a toll on his mental health. I loved all the snide barbs and comments, as well as the way he slowly warmed up to Louisa. Their relationship was definitely a slow burn. It was incredibly emotional and turbulent but ultimately was one of my favorite love stories I’ve read in a long time.
If you’re going to read this book, have a box of tissues. I know that sounds like an over-exaggeration, but it’s definitely not – I seriously ugly cried during that last quarter of this book. Me Before You is perfect for fans of The Fault in Our Stars – it’s in the same vein, but more mature and complex. Seriously, everyone should read this book – it’s deep, it’s existential, and it takes time to examine what it means to really live widely. 5/5