"Me Before You," by Jojo Moyes, has gotten a lot of attention. As soon as I read the blurb about it on the back cover, I grabbed it. I tend to favor books exploring male-female friendship, so that was the first thing that jumped out at me about this book. Then, the fact that one of the characters used a wheelchair captured my interest. I haven't seen many books like that.
Louisa is hired to help take care of Will, who is a quadriplegic and uses a wheelchair. Another reason she's hired by his parents, unbeknownst to her at first, is to help Will find joy in life again in an attempt to prevent him from going through with plans for assisted suicide in 6 month's time.
The book has sparked somewhat of a controversy: there is no point in living if you have a disability. This because no matter what Louisa does to try to perk him up and otherwise help him, he doesn't back down from his original intention: to end his life. He's got parents who love him, a woman who loves him, friends who love him, but it's not enough. He still faces years in the "prision" of his wheelchair, only able to move his fingers a bit, with the promise of deteriorating health, and total dependence on others.
My Take on It
Assisted suicide is a very personal issue, and it is difficult to know how a person would react if he were in the situation for real of being paralyzed with the strong possibility of losing more ability and function as times went on. It was up to Will to decide. It was his life. No one could step into his shoes and realize how he felt, or suddenly flip a switch that made all the problems go away. He needed to do what he felt was right for himself. The same is true for someone who is adamantly opposed to assisted suicide. The decision is, ultimately, his.
I thought it was a fabulous book. It felt authentic. Since I spent a large chunk of my life in a wheelchair due to the effects of spina bifida, I could relate to Will's character so much. Moyes either is a very talented writer with excellent research skills, or she has experience with being in a wheelchair or has someone in her life who uses one because she was spot on with the feelings, frustrations, stares, difficulty getting around barriers, and so on. Her characters had conversations nearly word-for-word from those I've had in my own life. I hated every minute I spent in that chair. Rather than treat it as a means of independence and freedom, I loathed it as something that made me stick out and look different in a sea of "normal" kids. I wasn't paralyzed like Will, but numerous foot surgeries and issues kept me in the wheelchair for extended periods of time. It caused countless headaches trying to get from one place to another. It was just a nuisance in my eyes.
By the time I hit high school, I had had enough. I was angry, depressed and concerning my parents with talks of wanting to die. I hadn't come up with a way to do it yet, but I was very close. My mom took me to a psychiatric nurse who was experienced in counseling teens. The nurse helped some. But, as nice as she was, I found myself play-acting with her; telling her what she wanted to hear.
The real breakthrough came when I met a fellow classmate at school. He was in my freshman history class. I never usually looked around the classroom, just at my lap, my books, or the teacher, but that day, I looked to my right and we both did a double take. I clicked with him immediately. He was interested in medical stuff, we were both outsiders at the time ( he was new to the school while I wasn't, but I didn't feel like I fit in), he stuck up for me, and he boosted my confidence.
Will and Louisa's relationship reminded me somewhat of ours in reverse, but his friendship helped me decide to live, not die. I'm thankful for that. Thoughts of death were replaced with a determination to ditch my wheelchair. I fought to walk and I finally won at age 16.
I didn't read the book thinking that it sent a negative message to people with disabilities. I thought of it as a story of two people coming together to help each other live the best lives possible. Sometimes endings just don't turn out the way we want them to, but that is what made the book so authentic to me. It wasn't a storybook ending. It was about real life issues and the tough decisions we have to make in the face of adversity. He made his choice. She was devastated but supportive in the end, and that's what real friendship is. That's what it means to love and respect another person.
I only had a couple of gripes with the book: 1. Will and his family just had to be loaded. I suppose to finance all the joyful experiences someone would have to be rich, but I really wish more books were written with the message that you don't have to have piles of money to be happy or for your dreams to come true. 2. Will died. I was hoping he'd change his mind at the last minute, but no.
If you are feeling down about your health issues, surround yourself with positive, caring people--friends, health care professionals, family, clergy, colleagues, and the like.. Or you may only need that one friend who sticks his neck out to make you feel whole, capable, happy, and ready to take on the world--or at least your little corner of it. If you feel depressed, please seek help from a qualified mental health professional. Whatever works, go for it--for life.
So, have you read the book? If so, what did you think of it? And, if not, I'm sorry for the spoilers.
Note: I just happened to write about this book because, like the graphic above says, it spoke to me. It was about friendship and health issues and I loved it. I am not writing this as a review for an affiliate.