Lou Clark enjoys her life in her small English hometown. Her family, ever teetering on financial disaster, is close. Patrick, her boyfriend and sure to eventually become Lou's husband, is a nice man, even though Lou simply tolerates his continual quest to become a perfect specimen of an athlete. Lou has a sparring yet loving relationship with her brilliant sister, Treena. Unexpectedly pregnant, Treena has returned home from college and now lives in the Clarks' crowded little house with her son. Lou cherishes her job as a waitress in the Buttered Bun Café, where she has formed friendships with her regular customers.
"ME BEFORE YOU has every quality a page-turner should have, in spades.... This is an unusual and emotional love story melded with a satisfying coming-of-age tale that is utterly irresistible."
However, everything changes on the day her boss calls her in to deliver terrible news: He is closing the café for good. Lou is in shock as she returns home. She knows her parents depend on her salary to get by. Her mother looks after Lou's grandfather, who lives with them, so she can't work. Her father's job is in constant jeopardy, with probable lay-offs looming. Typical of their relationship, Lou must literally run laps with Patrick while she confides her worries to him. She is not comforted by Patrick's notion that she could become a beautician because she's "pretty enough."
At the Job Center, the news is grim. Lou spends a few nights as a fill-in at a chicken processing plant and also works for a sketchy company that appears to be bent on selling questionable energy suppliers to seniors. Her job counselor wonders if she would be interested in a career as a pole dancer or "adult chat line supervisor." Lou is aghast at these possibilities, which makes the next open position considerably more appealing than it might have been otherwise: "Care and companionship for a disabled man." It turns out that the employer is a quadriplegic who simply needs someone with him during the day to help him…and the pay is quite good. Of course, Lou has reservations. She is not keen on wiping bottoms, but when offered the job --- as a temporary six-month position --- she can't turn it down.
Lou is off to a bumpy start the day she meets Will Traynor, who is now in a wheelchair, sidelined from his mountain-climbing, bungee-jumping, high-stakes-career life. Will is unhappy and certainly doesn't mind making Lou miserable by either ignoring her or snapping at her. Lou longs to quit the job, but her family is desperate for the paycheck. Eventually Lou discovers shocking news about Will, revelations that make her change her focus. She becomes determined to take him on adventures that will show him what he can still attain in spite of his disability. Meanwhile, as the two draw closer, Will tries to convince Lou that she can change her own future, enlarging it from the pleasant but ordinary fate to which she is resigned.
ME BEFORE YOU has every quality a page-turner should have, in spades. Author Jojo Moyes pulls readers immediately into Lou's world, handily eliminating that "I know if I keep reading, eventually I'll be hooked" phase sometimes encountered in books. Lou is a particularly endearing character with a sassy sense of humor, heavy on the self-deprecation, and readers cannot help but feel for her. This is an unusual and emotional love story melded with a satisfying coming-of-age tale that is utterly irresistible.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on January 10, 2013