The Me Before You book and movie was pretty popular in June, but have you read its sequel yet? Now that I’ve finished it, I’m sharing Jojo Moyes’ After You here today, and I liked it even better than the first book. Why? Let’s see…
(P.S. if you haven’t read Me Before You yet, SPOILERS AHEAD.)
About the book: After You opens on Louisa Clark’s life 18 months after Will’s death, and takes place mainly around her new home in London. Ironically, she has a bad accident after hearing an unexpected voice on her rooftop, which she soon learns belonged to Will’s teenage daughter, Lily. After a stint in the hospital, Louisa must patch up fraying relationships in her own family, help Lily as Will would have done, learn to cope in the group grief sessions she attends, and, of course, figure out how to put the past behind her enough to live.
A few familiar faces make their appearances, but as Louisa settles into a new city there are also new characters to pay attention to, one of whom is Ambulance Sam. From the moment she sees him hovering over her broken body in his paramedic uniform, she feels a sort of gratitude toward him that she can’t forget, even though she expects never to see him again. He is so influential that his words become a sort of mantra:
“I keep hearing the voice of the paramedic who treated me: You never know what will happen when you fall from a great height. I am apparently very lucky…I don’t feel lucky. I don’t feel anything.”
That one sentence about falling from a great height sticks with Louisa and comes up over and over throughout the novel with new connotations each time. Ambulance Sam also refuses to be forgotten, and begins to wake emotions in Louisa again–even ones she doesn’t want, ones she thought were dead. It’s certainly not a typical romance between Sam and Louisa. She doesn’t want a relationship at all, and there’s Will coming constantly between them, though he couldn’t be further away. In some ways, Sam’s presence is more of a reminder of Will’s absence in Louisa’s life than loneliness would be, but even without Sam she could never escape the affects of helping Will end his own life.
“So here is the thing about being involved in a catastrophic, life-changing event. You think it’s just the catastrophic, life-changing event that you’re going to have to deal with: the flashbacks, the sleepless nights, the endless running back over events in your head, asking yourself if you had done the right thing, said the things you should have said, whether you could have changed things had you done them even a degree differently…[But] even if I managed to wipe the whole thing from my memory, I would never be allowed to disassociate from Will’s death.”
It seems everyone has heard of Will’s controversial death, and stares and whispers follow Louisa everywhere in her hometown. At least in London she can hide in anonymity, but there are always things to explain, and once people know about Will they treat her differently. Still, even in subdued clothing or her hideous work uniform, Louisa does her best to remain optimistic despite everything that seems to be working against her:
“Most of the time, I was reasonably content with my life. I had been to enough group sessions now to know that it was important to be grateful for simple pleasures. I was healthy. I had my family again. I was working. If I hadn’t made peace with Will’s death, I did at least feel like I might be crawling out from under its shadow. And yet…something primal [was] telling me that I was in the wrong place, that I was missing something.”
Maybe that something is Lily. In the teenage whirlwind of chaos and disorder, Louisa finds a project and an unexpected companion. Lily’s certainly difficult, and it would be hard to call her a friend, but having someone to keep an eye on gives Louisa a new focus and renewed purpose. In the first book, I thought Louisa’s character seemed a little weak. She had absolutely no ambition or drive in her life beyond short-term projects. Although she still has trouble looking very far into her future in After You, Louisa definitely seems like a sturdier character. She has opinions. She makes her own choices, for her own sake. She’s choosing her own path, instead of stumbling along one that she was planted on with the outcomes already decided. There are certainly challenges still to be dealt with, and some of them knock Louisa right to the ground, but she’s learned to get back up now:
“I felt a little better. I did. I reminded myself of something else Marc had said: that no journey out of grief was straightforward. There would be good days and bad days. Today was just a bad day, a kink in the road, to be traversed and survived.”
Although one of my favorite aspects of Me Before You was the addition of the other characters’ perspectives in chapters scattered throughout the book, I also really appreciated in this one that the focus remained almost solely on Louisa. There is one chapter in Lily’s perspective, which helps introduce a plot point more efficiently than Louisa’s voice could have done, and it seems fitting that the only additional perspective in After You should belong to Will’s daughter. Lily herself is an apt addition to this story who helps Louisa move forward without letting her or the reader forget about the past. Louisa realizes she’s not the only one suffering from Will’s death, even if she’s the one who knew him best at the end of his life.
“Sometimes I look at the lives of the people around me and I wonder if we aren’t all destined to leave a trail of damage…I gazed around me, like someone suddenly handed clear glasses, and I saw that pretty much everyone bore the brutal imprint of love, whether it was lost, whipped away from them, or simply vanished into a grave.”
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. Although I was oddly satisfied that Will stuck to his decision on ending his life, and I appreciated the stylistic choice of including multiple character perspectives, I enjoyed everything about After You more than its preceding novel. After You struck me as far less predictable, and held so many more possibilities. Louisa became a stronger character, minor conflicts among her family members finally reached their conclusions, loose ends were wrapped up conclusively, but the end of the novel still left room to the imagination for Louisa’s future. For me, the plot of the first book felt very separate from the characters, as though the characters had just been planted into a ready-made plot, which left me disliking most of them; whereas in the second book the plot seemed to be worked around the characters’ personalities–their choices felt more apt, the events flowed more smoothly, and I liked almost everyone.
I would recommend this sequel to anyone who’s read or seen Me Before You in book or movie form. I did think the first book was richer than the film, but they’re so close in content that you could dive into After You after either format. After You seems more like the end to the first story than a whole new story, and I do think it’s worth experiencing both pieces, even if there were things you didn’t like about the first part.
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling) is another story set in London with characters that feel realistic–one of whom is coping with being crippled–who fight to keep a struggling private detective business open. Each character has his/her own emotional backstory which make relationships between them particularly interesting. You can find my review of this book here.
- For a bit more of a thrill, Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood is also set around modern day London and features a young female narrator. This book is a perfect summer read for someone who liked the Me Before You duo but wants a little change of pace. You can find my review of this book here.
What’s Next: I’ll be reviewing the new Harry Potter installment, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This one is formatted as a play, which makes it a quick read, and the characters, as always, are highly entertaining. Stay tuned for an update soon!
Because the aftermath is as important as the main event,
The Literary Elephant