What I’m Reading: Still Me

I adored Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. When I read it, it was the first time in recent history that I actually went back and reread specific passages after I finished the book—for those of you familiar with the story, it was the “dancing” scene at the wedding. Sure, I understood why certain people thought that the outcome of the story was problematic, but I took it for what it was: an incredibly romantic, incredibly tragic, dynamically written story. I also really enjoyed the movie version, in large part due to the chemistry between Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, who is just a beautiful human being. So I have two thumbs way up for everything Me Before You.

And then, in 2015, After You came out. In a forward, Jojo Moyes confessed that she never intended to write a sequel to Me Before You, but the international popularity and thirst for more about the characters compelled her to do so. Now I am not a novelist, but I feel like this perhaps isn’t the best reason or environment in which to write a sequel, especially if you didn’t intend to. At the end of Me Before You, we left Louisa at Will’s favorite cafe in Paris, beginning her journey to learn more about the world and herself, and we felt like she was going to be alright. Well, in After You, Moyes basically hits us with a “haha, just kidding, she is most definitely NOT alright.” And that was the gray, stagnant place that most of the book lived in, even after Louisa met Sam and began to experience love again. So as you may have guessed from everything in this paragraph, I didn’t love After You, and I will be the first to tell you that I disagreed with Lou’s decision at the end of the book to pick up and leave the life and love she had started to rebuild for a new adventure across the world. It didn’t make any sense to me.

So when I picked up Still Me, the third installment in the story, I didn’t do so because I was clamoring for more. I did so out of sheer curiosity to see where Moyes would take it, and also because Moyes is a gifted writer whose prose I enjoyed. And I can now say that I’m very glad I did. I’m not sure if Moyes had this book planned out when she was writing After You—if she did, then I suppose that justifies Lou’s decision to move to New York, because the new setting gives the book a whole new life. Not only is Lou having new experiences, but we as readers also get to venture into this new space with her and meet the new people she is meeting, which I thought really made this book sparkle.

I thought Agnes Gopnik, Louisa’s boss, was an incredibly interesting and well-formed character. I also loved Ilaria, the cook and housekeeper in the Gopnik’s home, a more minor but intriguing character. There is a lot of discussion about power dynamics and class in this book, and there’s one scene in which Ilaria believes that the Gopniks have wronged Louisa, and she responds by cooking them a meal for supper that she knows neither of them like. Little moments like these were sprinkled throughout the book, and they really added depth and color to the story.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but the route that Louisa’s love life takes felt a little predictable, though that didn’t stop the heartbreaking moments from feeling totally heartbreaking, in true Jojo Moyes fashion. The presence of Joshua Ryan, who reminds Louisa so much of Will it makes her head spin (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s basically on the jacket and she meets him very early), played an interesting and necessary role in her development as a woman and an individual, which is the through line this book draws from the beginning of the series. This soul-searching did feel a little heavy-handed at times, but I was satisfied with the path it took (via the incredibly engaging Margot De Witt) and where it finally led her.

The end of Me Before You felt like it could have been the ending of Louisa’s story, and I would have been content with that. This ending, however, feels more earned—Moyes knows that if you’ve reached this place it’s because you care about Louisa, want to see her make decisions that will make her happy and yes, fulfill her potential, which Will implored her to do with such frequency in first book.

My recommendation is to pick it up. Even if you’ve only seen the movie of Me Before You and didn’t read After You, I think you would still enjoy this book. It’s heartwarming, charming, funny, earnest and sad, all the things a good romance (with a dash of coming-of-age) should be.

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