I picked up Me Before You because I was in the mood for something light and feel-good after the zombie apocalypse that occurred over Christmas. Based on the (admittedly little) I'd read about it, I expected it to be a fairly straightforward romance with a lovably quirky female lead. I thought Me Before You would be like a strawberry milkshake—sweet, frothy, the kind of book that goes down easy.
And, well, I was partly right. Louisa, the main character, immediately appealed to me. She's twenty-six, still lives with her parents, and is perfectly content working as a café waitress. She doesn't have much in the way of ambition. She wears loud thrift-shop clothes and tends to ramble when she's nervous. Her steady life is upended when she's laid off from her job. Because her family can't make ends meet without her salary, Louisa needs to find a new job fast, but she's not qualified for much. Out of desperation, she takes a position as a non-medical caregiver.
Louisa's charge is Will Traynor, a man who enjoyed a moneyed, jet-setting lifestyle until an accident left him a quadriplegic. He has nurses to take care of his physical needs, but his family hopes having Louisa around for companionship will cheer him up and take his mind off his condition. As you might guess, Will isn't receptive to her at all, going out of his way to be hostile, sometimes outright ignoring her. At the beginning at least, Louisa spends a lot of time cleaning and making tea just to have something to occupy her.
This all sounds cozy and predictable, doesn't it? Strawberry milkshake from beginning to end. But it isn't that simple. For starters, the characterization is thorough and compelling. I genuinely liked Louisa. She's not going for the Nobel Prize in physics. She's not working on the next great British novel. She's not trying to pin down a husband as soon as humanly possible. She's a sweet, hapless girl who isn't entirely sure what she wants out of life. The trajectory of the story also defies expectations. I have to admit to feeling perhaps a little manipulated by the ending, but only a little, and I liked how it felt both surprising and fitting.
I read this book in a single day and finished it right before getting in the car for a 40-minute drive with Adam, and I kept apologizing to him for how quiet I was. Normally as a passenger I keep up a steady stream of chatter, but my head was so thick with conflicting emotions, I couldn't weedwhack my way out. I wasn't even capable of talking about any of it out loud yet. All day I had been so absorbed in Louisa and Will's world, it took a physical effort to get back out, like trying to swim up to the surface from deep water. That, to me, is evidence of the book's power and originality. The plot description may taste like strawberry milkshake, but the book itself gave me plenty to chew on.