Wednesday, April 15, 2020

After You - Jojo Moyes (Me Before You Series, #2)

After You is the second book in the Me Before You trilogy.  I suggest you start with the first book, Me Before You, if you haven't already read it.  I certainly wouldn't read any further in this review until you do, though you can read Lara's review, if you are interested.

Summary:  After the transformative six months she spent with Will Traynor, Louisa Clark is struggling without him.  Following an extraordinary accident, she is no longer the girl she once was.  Her body heals, but Lou knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life.  Reluctantly, she joins a support group and meets Sam Fielding -- a paramedic whose business is life and death -- and the one man who might be able to understand her.  Then a figure from Will's past appears and hijacks all of Lou's plans, propelling her into a very different future... 

Funny, poignant, romantic, After You is quintessential Jojo Moyes -- a deeply emotional, surprising novel that asks, How do you move on after losing the person you loved?  How do you build a life worth living?

(Summary from book - Image from npr.org)

My Review:  After You is a follow-up book to Me Before You, a book that I love in a dysfunctional kind of way.  Even after MBY ran me through an intense emotional wringer, delved into sensitive and complex societal issues, and smacked me down with an insane book hangover, I still have two copies sitting on my favorite's shelf.  When After You came out, I was still in mourning for certain characters and just didn't know if I could go on without them in the story.  I'd also heard from other reviewers that another character seemed like a totally different person in the second book and wasn't as likable.  I was hesitant to press forward if that was the case and so I just let the series hang for several years.  However, I have been missing Louisa of late and, since the release of the third book, Still Me, getting a little curious about the rest of her story, so I decided it was finally time to see how she was getting on. 

(SPOILERS for ME BEFORE YOU beyond this point)

It turns out, Lou's not doing too well. 

After You is the complicated tale of a grieving young woman, who is struggling to piece herself back together and move on with her life after a devastating loss. After spending some time traveling and buying a flat with the money Will Traynor left her, Louisa is living alone in London, stuck in a dead-end job she hates, in a flat she can't bring herself to decorate, and drowning in her own heartache.  She's already having a hard time coping after Will's death, especially given the manner of his passing, and then she (accidentally) falls off a building and things get even worse.  Eventually, a few new people enter her life in ways that both enrich and complicate things, but Lou's grief is always looming and often paralyzing -- a black hole she can't seem to escape. 

I think some people described Lou's character as different from the previous book is because she is different.  Once spunky and optimistic, Lou is now thoroughly depressed, confused, occasionally angry, and that makes her kind of unlikable on the surface.  Those emotions are almost palpable, eminently transferable, and easy to internalize, especially the way Moyes writes them.  It's why I was lamenting the loss a fictional character, for Pete's sake.  I'm not going to pretend that following Lou's grieving process was pleasant; it was not.  There was no quick fix or easy answer to her pain, and things went sideways a lot.  Though we all process our sorrow differently, After You felt like an incredibly authentic portrayal of someone going through the grieving process. 

Lou's grief almost feels like its own character in the story, but there were also plenty of other side stories that kept me interested.  Along with two new characters and their story lines, Lou's mother has embraced some more progressive ideas, much to her father's chagrin (and my amusement).  Treena is her usual, opinionated self.  Lou's employer is an absolute nightmare.  And in their own quest for healing, Will's parents have taken paths that diverge sharply.  Even the members of Lou's grief support group have their own contributions to make.  After You may not have been 'entertaining' in the 'beach-read' sense, but the different characters and plot threads were certainly well crafted.

That having been said,  I still feel like After You pales in comparison to its predecessor.  I liked checking up on Lou...but I didn't love the book.  Eventually Lou finds her footing on the path to healing, but it was hard to vicariously experience her grief for such a long time.  I have heard that the third book, Still Me, is actually the best of the series so I will probably keep reading in the series just to see how things end for Lou.  I'll let you know what I think.

My Rating: 3.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Entirely too many F-words for my taste most coming from one particular character. Some innuendo.  Two intimate situations, though neither are terribly graphic.  Two incidences of sextortion (one mildly descriptive and another just plain creepy).  One brief incidence of gun violence.

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