Themes Explored: grief, coping, familial relations, mother-daughter relations, realistic fiction, work, reality, crushed dreams, guilt, death, teenage rebellion, drifting through life, making hard decisions, therapy, getting over loss, romance
Summary: Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.
Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the 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 her plans, propelling her into a very different future. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: Grief is a tricky subject. After You is Jojo Moyes’ sequel to her bestselling Me Before You, which was about Louisa, a young caregiver who falls in love with her quadriplegic charge, Will. And then loses him when he chooses to commit suicide. After You examines the effects of death on those left behind to mourn. Eighteen months after Will’s death Lou is still deep in the throes of blinding grief. Instead of pursuing a college education, she had settled into a London apartment and taken a low-paying bartender job at a lousy airport bar. One day, after consuming a lot of alcohol, she falls off the roof of her building. Sam, the attractive paramedic, patches her together and doles out some life advice. At the behest of her parents, Lou joins a family grief circle called “Moving On”. Then, out of the blue, sixteen year-old Lily comes bowling into her life. Claiming to be Will Traynor’s daughter, Lily upends Lou’s life with her wacky demands and wild behavior.
Grief is a tough subject to tackle in real life. No two people will experience grief in the same way nor “recover” at the same rate. Some people take months to go through all the stages of grief, while others can take years. Often people express their grief in unexpected ways. Me Before You was a moving novel that looked unflinchingly at some tough life decisions. Louisa (Lou) takes a job as a caretaker to Will Traynor, a quadriplegic who wants to ends his life. Lou falls in love with Will and vice versa. However, Will still decides to end his life. In After You Lou is dealing with the grief of losing Will and the regret of not getting him to change his mind about suicide. Will left her a lot of money on the condition that she do something worthwhile with her life. Instead she buys an apartment, takes a job at a bar, and drinks herself into oblivion.
Lou was a cheerful and engaging narrator in Me Before You. Now she is a depressed and broken woman who is stuck in constant turmoil. She cannot get over the fact that she could not convince Will to stay alive. I think Moyes does a good job showing how grief can change a person’s personality and outlook on life. Nothing brings out depression like an avoidable death. Just when Lou is about to take a stable job in New York, Lily comes tumbling out of nowhere and disrupts Lou’s life. Lily is a wild and unmoored sixteen year old who claims to be the daughter of Will Traynor. Her mother, Tanya, never told Will that she was pregnant because she thought he was an arse. Now, Lily is looking for any information on her now deceased father.
Lily is every parent’s worst nightmare. She smokes, drinks like a sailor, flunked out of school, and back talks to everyone. But she is also lost, lonely, and looking for a responsible adult to give her some direction in her life. Since her own mother and step-father have given up on her and happily give all parenting responsibilities over to Lou. Except, Lou has no idea what to do with a rebellious sixteen year old. The one thing Lily does is bring some life back to Mrs. Traynor, who kind of fell apart after Will died and her husband left her for another woman. However, I think Lily is a rather annoying character. From a narrative perspective I just find it hard to believe that such an independent character would not have tried to seek out her father before his death. I just found her grating and mostly ungrateful for Lou bending over backwards to help her out. Though she does come around in the end.
Sam is the hunky paramedic who patches Lou up after she falls off the roof. He then meets her again outside the Moving On group. As this is a novel, Sam is every woman’s dream man. Hunky, compassionate, understanding, rides a motorcycle, has a steady job, strong protective instincts, and a sly sense of humor, Sam is the complete package. Needless to say, he is rather too good to be true. As a foil, he plays well off of the deeply depressed Lou and helps her see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, he just does not come off the page like Will from Me Before You. While both Sam and Lou needed each other to move on from their respective problems, I just did not see the sparks, so to speak. Though the ending hints at another novel, so perhaps their story will have some more excitement to it later.
The one big problem with this book is that there are several unconvincing stock characters. For instance the support group is underwhelming and does not provide anything to the narrative. Well, other than serving as a convoluted way for Lou to reconnect with Sam. Then there is Tanya, Lily’s mother. She is the typical narcissistic middle-class stock villain. Really, I do not know if she could have been anymore terrible. While characters such as her do, unfortunately, exist in real life, she is just one of several one-dimensional characters. Then there is Treena, Lou’s older sister. Treena is the smart sister whose life is derailed after she has a child out of wedlock. She never stops belaboring this point throughout the novel. I can understand bad choices impacting your life, but Treena just never stops brining up her poor life decisions. While revisiting Lou was fun, After You just does not have the emotional impact of Me Before You.
After You, Penguin, 2015, ISBN: 9780698411418