Book Review: Me Before You

If you haven’t read Me Before You, don’t read this because I’m going to pretty much ruin the entire thing.

I saw a preview for the movie about a month ago. It was probably in the theater or an ad that popped up; I can’t remember which came first, but I knew from the moment I saw the preview that I had to watch it. I don’t know why- it was just another romance/drama, but something drew me in and I knew that it was different.

Fast forward to a few days ago, in Target with my dad shopping for a Mother’s Day present, where I saw the book on the Recent Releases shelf and I picked it up without hesitation. Usually, if I want to buy something for myself, I’ll think about it for a good thirty minutes before deciding that maybe I don’t need it after all and then get sad about being a broke college student. Not with this one. I picked it up, and I haven’t put it down since.

Let me start out by saying this book legitimately broke my heart. I’m talking about laying in bed crying so much that I have to stop reading because it hurts too much. In fact, I’m genuinely pissed off (excuse the strong language, but that’s even an understatement) at it right now. Just a few minutes ago, I held it tight to my chest as something precious to me, while simultaneously thinking about how I wanted to chuck it across the room. There have been two other books to ever have this effect on me (thanks The Fault In Our Stars and Delirium, and actually Everything, Everything had a bit of heartbreak as well…I’m sensing a theme in these books), but I still don’t think it felt quite like this.

Maybe it’s because I am starting to understand love and life a little better since reading the others, but it definitely is a conflicting thing (i.e. “why do I subject myself to actual emotional stress and pain over fictional stories and characters when I could just, you know, not?”).

That’s the beautiful thing about reading, I suppose, is that you can get so attached to characters that they feel like extensions of yourself and when bad things happen to them, you feel it too. I will forever be simultaneously in love with and despise Will Traynor, as I will forever see a lot of myself in Louisa Clark. She started out with no drive or ambition, which I always pride myself on having, but I fear anything outside of my comfort zone just as she does, claiming it’s all I need. I hated Will at first, just as she did, thinking “you cannot fall in love with a guy that is so negative and treats everyone like garbage,” but lo and behold, he let his guard down and proved to be a beautiful person. A little too selfish for my liking, but that’s Will, and I think Lou knows that as well (hence the line “How is it you have the right to destroy my life, I wanted to demand of him, but I’m not allowed a say in yours?“).

I went into this book excited, expecting for a romantic story of a woman who loves a man with a tragic disability, but it is definitely not just another love story. Here’s where spoilers start to really come in, so I’ve warned you. Love isn’t even mentioned between the two until close to the end of the book. When she finally tells Will that she is in love with him and drunkenly kisses him, and he tells her that it isn’t enough…you’d better believe I had Lou’s tears running down my face too. The main focus is that Will, who becomes a quadriplegic in the prime of his life, wants to kill himself and everyone that loves him is trying to do all they can to save him. His parents agree to take him to a clinic where they will “help him out,” if you know what I mean, in six months. It’s in this time that Louisa comes around and he goes from a very depressed, mean, horrible guy, to someone who is funny, sweet, and caring. In the end, though, he still decides to go through with it.

It was there that I stopped reading. I don’t know if I will finish. It’s the last chapter I believe, but I refuse to let Will Traynor die. Not only would it kill the part of me that, just in the past few days, has made room for Will, but I want to still hope that maybe he didn’t do it. Maybe he said no at the last moment. Maybe he decided that a life with Louisa was enough.

All signs point to no, I’m aware, but at least there is some glimmer of hope this way.

It may seem dramatic; they are fictional after all, but you become a part of the story as soon as you open the first page, and that’s why I can’t finish the book. This story, these characters, became a part of me, no matter how small, from the moment I saw that first preview and thought “I need to see that.” I’ve been through the heartbreak of losing a beloved character a thousand times, and for some reason, it seemed a little too unbearable with Will.

I wanted him to want to live. I wanted him to hold on. I wanted him to see that he wouldn’t be holding Louisa back. I know this book majorly addressed the topic of assisted suicide, specifically in cases of people with disabilities who were in intense pain or just physically miserable all the time, and never shoved one side down the readers’ throat, I think. I remain on my side that I do not think assisted suicide is in any way okay, but I have questioned it many times throughout the book. That’s what good books are meant to do: to get you to think, to have an impact on you. I have more sympathy and less anger now for those who agree to assisted suicide. Maybe not the people who actually perform it, but for the families who eventually give in and support the decision made, like in Will’s case. I can’t hate his parents for agreeing to take him. As much as I’d like to scream at them for it and even scream at Will, I can’t imagine being in a place so desperate. I would probably want to do the same if I were in his position.

But life is precious and I just don’t feel like humans have the right to say when their time is up, because if it were up, you wouldn’t have to take it yourself. I have never been in a position like Will’s, but I have dealt with depression for just over six years, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t try to take my own life, or that I hadn’t thought about it quite a bit. But I’m so glad I didn’t. I think that’s another reason why I was so involved in this book. I can’t relate to his severe physical condition in any way, and I’m not claiming to understand a situation like that, but I connected with him on a level where he made killing himself sound like it just made sense. That’s why I wanted him to live so badly: because I felt like there was a part of me in him and he was going to go through with killing it even though I so desperately wanted him not to (“How is it you have the right to destroy my life,” or at least a tiny fraction of it, “…but I’m not allowed a say in yours?“)

My head is swirling with reasons why I’m writing this, and I don’t really have a single, clear one. I had such a connection with this book that I still can’t even fully explain. I don’t even know if I’m recommending it or not, because it just hurt to read, but that’s a good thing sometimes. That means it meant something to you, that it said something important. This book said a whole lot of important things with it’s discussion on both living and dying, on the danger of the comfort zone, on real love, on how people change with time and you have to let them go sometimes, on the pain that others can cause you even if what they do has nothing to do with you directly.

If you want to read a book that will bring you on a massive emotional journey, but you’ll likely come out changed in the end, I would highly suggest this one.

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