Love stories fall into two camps. There are those that are epic, tragic and beloved. And there are those that are overwrought, exaggerated and ridiculed. JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You introduces a third category, one in which the romantic relationship takes a back seat to larger issues at play in a way that simultaneously respects and amplifies the characters’ love beautifully.
Recently laid off and practically unemployable, 26-year-old Lou Clark desperately takes a position caring for a quadriplegic man in her small English town. Expecting to find an older invalid, she is at once intrigued and horrified to discover that her charge, one Will Traynor, is in fact a formerly adventurous 35-year-old man whose world is racked by pain and fury. He is silent, angry and frustrated, while she is quirky, talkative and hopeful—while hiding a secret of her own. Over time, she breaks his walls down. Over time, they fall in love.
And here’s where the story takes a turn you wouldn’t expect. Despite Lou’s connection with Will, despite the way they love and need each other, they are dealt challenges that normal couples simply do not face. These include not only Will’s physical inabilities, but also his psychological obstacles and where Me Before You shines is in its ability to humanly portray these. As Will rages against the machines and medicines he depends on for life, Lou seeks advice and comfort from online forums for paralyzed individuals and their loved ones. Together, they face these challenges head on, taking the reader on a breath-holding ride as they do so.
That’s not to say Me Before You is without fault. At times, the plot becomes predictable and the dialogue overdone. But what outweighs this is the way Moyes unravels the story, revealing slowly, then all at once, the secret weighing down the Traynor family and the steps Lou must take to make things right. In doing so, Moyes does not baby the reader, does not back down from the harsh decisions the characters must make. Perhaps that is why it is believable that Lou and Will fall in love. They don’t fall in love against the odds—they fall in love because of them.
As with Me Before You, I expected this crostata to be flaky, if sweet. Pleasantly, I was wrong about each of them. The hint of orange and cinnamon add subtle layers to the plums, which grow soft and syrupy when baked. With a crust that’s light but firm, there’s no escaping its embrace.
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