A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Me Before You is about an unlikely relationship between Louisa, a working-class British woman, and Will, a quadriplegic living at his wealthy parents' estate. Will is facing a serious decision about his condition, and Lou, his hired caregiver, tries her best to get him to make the choice everyone else wants. The two main characters learn a lot from each other, especially about opening yourself up to different ways of thinking, but many -- especially in the disabled community -- have found the portrayal of Will and his point of view problematic, since he's presented as feeling that life isn't worth living if you're disabled. Although it's not marketed as a young adult book, it has teen appeal, and it's been adapted into a film that many teens will see. All the characters drink socially, including to excess on a few occasions. There's no smoking; marijuana use is mentioned in a flashback; and there's little sexual content beyond flirting and kissing. One character recalls being raped, but it's not described in detail. Characters swear, using British terms such as "arse" and "bloody, as well as "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "piss," and "d--k."
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What's the story?
Louisa Clark has no aspirations to seek a life outside her small British town. She lives with her parents, works at the Buttered Bun, and sees her boyfriend of six years a few times a week. When the cafe closes, she finds herself out of a job. Because of the recession and her limited job experience, she's forced to take jobs that don't appeal to her. One of these is as a companion to a quadriplegic man who lives on his parents' estate near the town's castle. It's only across town, but socially it's a world away. Will, the man she's hired to look after, lived an exciting, successful life in London before an accident left him in a wheelchair. The two get off to a rough start, as Will resents anyone who tries to make decisions for him or doesn't understand the depth of his anguish over his condition. Chatty, quirky, funny Lou eventually breaks through the wall Will has built around himself, and a lovely relationship develops. The biggest issue is a decision Will is making about his life and future.
Is it any good?
It's impossible not to fall in love with the characters and story in this deeply emotional and insightful novel. Me Before You tells the story of a man and a woman in a small British town: One is confined there, and one has confined herself there. Readers might think they're getting into a romance, but instead they find themselves enmeshed in a beautiful, emotional, and suspenseful novel. No character in this book is a cliche, not even minor characters, such as an ex-girlfriend of Will's who easily could have been a stereotype. The story's told mostly from Lou's viewpoint, with a few chapters from the viewpoints of other characters, with the notable exception of Will. Lou has a great voice as a character. She has a lot on her shoulders, but she's charming and funny, especially when she babbles nervously. Will is more of a cipher as he confronts major problems: confined to a wheelchair, living with pain, missing his old life, and not knowing when or how badly his condition will deteriorate. Author Jojo Moyes provides an eye-opening look at what quadriplegics have to deal with on a daily basis, physically, emotionally, and socially. Also addressed is the issue of death with dignity. That said, the book has stirred controversy for offering what some consider a stereotypical portrayal of a disabled person who feels that life's not worth living because he's disabled.
Me Before You will move many readers to tears, but not in an overly manipulative way. In addition to the humor and emotion in the book, the suspense is gripping. Moyes doesn't telegraph the ending at all, which will have most readers on the edge of their seat.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Will is portrayed. Do you find his view of being disabled problematic? Can you see why disabled people might? What do you think about how disabled people are portrayed in the media generally? Do disabled characters tend to come off as stereotypes rather than complex individuals?
Stories about characters with serious illnesses are popular. What makes them so appealing? Which others have you read or seen in the movies?
Right-to-die and death-with-dignity laws have been covered in the news. How do you feel about this issue? Do you think people should be able to make those decisions for themselves? What are some instances where you think it's a good idea and some where it might be a bad one?
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