Tuesday, May 10, 2016

REVIEW: Me Before You

Me Before You
Author: Jojo Moyes

I have to admit that I was hesitant to read this book. I usually avoid subjects that might be depressing, or overly emotional. I don't like to read books that leave me feeling traumatized at the finish. I read such good reviews of this book, however, that I pushed past my concerns and dove into reading without a backwards look.

Louisa lives a simple life before she meets Will Traynor. Will was paralyzed in an accident two years before, and requires a caregiver to help him with daily tasks. Louisa applies for the job, and is hired for a six month period even though she has no prior experience as a caregiver. At first, Will is sarcastic and angry. He doesn't want her there. But over time, they begin to form a friendship. Then Louisa discovers that she was hired only for six months because Will has announced to his family that at the end of that time he is going to travel to Switzerland to commit assisted suicide.

I am so glad I  pushed past my comfort zone and read this book. Once I started reading, I couldn't put the book down. The story just sucked me right in. I found myself sympathizing with nearly every character in the book, with the exception of Louisa's family. I could only imagine how Will felt, as his entire life changed after the accident that left him paralyzed. I felt real sympathy for Louisa who found herself caring for a man that was so broken, physically and emotionally, and her feelings of being trapped in a weird relationship with family members who seemingly keep her around only to help pay their bills. I could also identify with Will's family in their mixed feelings of sadness, anger, grief, disappointment and fear as they watch their loved one fade from being a strong, risk-taker to a broken, depressed, suicidal quadriplegic. The only characters I found myself detesting were Louisa's parents and her sister. I found their disrespect for her to be annoying, and her sister's use of single parenthood as an excuse for being a freeloader was just asinine. The only problem I had with Louisa was her absolute lack of backbone with her family. Louisa was quite a strong person in her dealing with Will early on in their relationship when he was being insulting, condescending and angry at her as she acted as his caregiver. But, in her dealings with her own family, that strength was just absent.

I picked up this book knowing what the end was going to be, and recognizing that the plot line was going to be completely emotionally manipulative. The very synopsis of the plot should prepare any reader for what the final result is going to be. So, I refused to have any hope for a different outcome, and just enjoyed the story for the thought provoking value, not for the "love story'' or emotion of it. I can't fault the author, or the story, for playing the emotion card. It's not like it was a hidden surprise....anyone who reads even the shortest blurb about the topic of this novel should know it's going to be dark and there is no happy ending, just a bitter sweet, complex, emotional ride. It's not technically manipulation if the actions are totally purposeful with no attempt to soften or misrepresent things, right? This book is emotionally harsh....but that's the nature of this beast. If you are easily emotionally broken, this book is not for you. Period. Pass it by. Read something lighter. Something with sunshine and hope. I do think the Will character was stylized to fit the plot. Many quadriplegics lead fulfilling lives after being injured. It was a bit surprising to me that someone who was so strong before his accident would just utterly give up because of an injury, no matter how catastrophic. Or, that someone with his personality would drag his family and a woman he loves into decisions and circumstances that would be so emotionally painful for them. But, I would suppose that you never know how a strong person will react to having their lifestyle ripped away from them with no hope of regaining any of it. Some people react with greater strength, and others give up. In Will's case, I guess the changes were just too much. Hope fades with time when there is no chance of anything improving.

For me this story was more thought provoking than emotional. I didn't let myself plug into the emotional aspects, as I knew what was coming and didn't want to let it in. I found myself thinking about what I would do if a family member were injured like this. How would that make me feel? How do I think they would feel? What if I was in an accident and was paralyzed.....I can't even imagine going through what Will did on a daily basis. And, could I cope with the daily responsibilities of caring for a family member who was injured in a similar way? It would be gut-wrenching. And, I contemplated the ethics behind assisted suicide. Is it just a matter of a person deciding to die with dignity and on their own terms? Or is it a legal matter akin to murder that those allowing, or assisting, a person to commit suicide should be prosecuted? I can see points on both sides of the issue. But I think in the end I have to quote Will: "It's not your choice.''  In the end, the decision about what is right or wrong when it comes to chronically ill people wanting to end their life lies with that person. Not me. If I was in Will's position and had my life restricted to a wheelchair, not even able to go to the bathroom by myself, I might make the same decision he made. And that would be nobody's choice, or moral dilemma, but mine.

All in all, this is a very well-written and strongly emotional book. It isn't a read for the faint of heart.

And, yes. I teared up at the end. It was impossible not to.

This is a powerful book if you go into it with an open mind from the beginning, and an understanding of what the end is going to be.

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