Getting to know that a new neighbor loves to read (but doesn't like book clubs - imagine!), we started talking about books. This was back in November. She recommended a few books, some that I'd heard of and some that I hadn't. And she emphatically recommended this book. I came home that night and requested After You from the library. It finally became available in early January. Following my new norm, I waited until the latest Outlander expired off my iPad before starting to read After You.
This review includes spoilers for the first book, Me Before You. I highly recommend that book so if you haven't read it and want to, go read that first. And then come back...
I'm not sure why but I expected to pick up this book and love it. Quite the opposite. I picked up this book and thought, oh, this is horrible. Too many books, too little time? Is this something I even want to read. The characters were so whiny and annoying to me. This was the book I'd been looking forward to reading? I tried to remember what my neighbor said she liked about it so much. Was it a twist towards the end? Was it the ending? I knew she'd mentioned something specific and I remember her telling me she didn't want to share too much because she didn't want to ruin the story for me. I grumbled through a few more chapters. And then the book turned for me. I was hooked.
Me Before You is the story about a young woman, Louise, in a far out suburb of London whose live needs a kickstart. She's living at home with her parents, has a dead-end job and a dead beat boyfriend. She sees a job advertised for a caregiver, applies and gets the job. It's not at all what she expected. The man she will be caring for is Will, a wealthy former playboy (at least that's how he came across to me) and as a result of an accident, he's left a quadriplegic. So here we've got Lou, timid and not willing to create life on her terms, and Will, whose accident thrusts him into a whole different life. But is it a life worth living? That's the big question.
Will would like to end his life. He feels it isn't a life worth living. He's preparing for assisted suicide. He makes a deal with his mother that he won't do anything for six months. Those are the six months that Lou was hired for. She makes it her mission to change Will's mind. At first, Will is miserable towards her, trying to scare her away and trying to get her to leave him alone. Eventually, though, Will also has a mission. He wants Lou to become the type of woman to really live life, the way that he lived life prior to his accident. He wants her to have adventures and take risks and really L-I-V-E!
Will is more successful in his endeavor than Lou is. At the end of Me Before You, Will is dead and Lou is left with certain instructions and quite a bit of money.
After You picks up about 18 months later. Lou has spent time in Paris, she's bounced around a little bit. Now she's bought a flat on the edge of the city of London and she's working as a server at a bar at the airport. She knows that she's not doing what she promised Will she'd do. She's not really living but rather just going through the motions. She hasn't made her flat her own. The manager of the airport bar makes her working days miserable. Something has to change.
Then Lou has a rather bizarre accident where she is injured. Not as severely as Will had been injured. Not really life changing at all. But enough that she needs to go home and recuperate at her parents' house and making her wonder how she ended up back where she'd been just two years ago.
Once she's recovered enough, before heading back to London, Lou makes a promise to her father that she'll join a grief support group. She needs to get over Will's death. At the first meeting, Lou sits there wondering what she possible has in common with these other people. After all, her loss was so unique.
The group is pointless, her job gets worse and worse. She wonders what her life is all about. And then... as a result of the group she meets a man. And part of Will's past barges into her life. This is where I'll stop giving the details and just get on to the themes of the book.
Unlike the first novel which forces the reader to think about assisted suicide, this book takes on many more issues. It's about coming to terms with loss and learning how to live with the loss while still actually living. It's about family and all its strengths and weaknesses. It's about women's roles, even after they're in their 50s after years of being a stay-at-home mother. It's about what teens need. It's about love. Moyes covers all those themes - in the second half of the book - really well.
Do I recommend this book? Yes, I do. But don't pick it up expecting a second Me Before You. As a sequel, I'd only give this book 2 stars. But as a stand alone story about characters for whom we know the backstory, I give it 4 stars. Thank you, neighbor, for planting the bug in my head to read it... and for your words that kept me to stick with it even when I felt like giving it up.