I loved a man who had opened up a world to me but hadn’t loved me enough to stay in it
― Jojo Moyes, After You
Long before Emilia Clarke’s eyebrows tried to break free of her face, there was a tearjerker of a novel named Me Before You. Funny, touching and ultimately heartbreaking, Me Before You was a huge hit, and a story I got very very into. (Full disclosure: Thanks to the movie trailer I can no longer listen to this song without feeling weepy. Almost related: Ed Sheerchin.)
After You, the ‘long awaited sequel,’ picks up on the life of Me Before You’s heroine, Lou. Set 18 months after quadriplegic Will’s untimely exit, we find Lou living alone in an impersonal London flat, working behind a bar in an airport and struggling with several thoughts: What to do next and why she wasn’t enough being just two of them. Though not an epic love story like its predecessor, After You deals with a feeling arguably just as strong as love – grief.
Through the introduction of a new central character alongside a host of supporting characters, through Lou’s own emotional responses and throughout the entire storyline from support groups to the rejection of everything that reminds Lou of her former life, the reader is presented with the idea and effects of grieving, the many ways in which a person has the choice to sink or swim, and the importance of letting go. I can’t say much more than that without giving everything away but I will say the representation of the grief cycle was realistic, the whole thing was kind of interesting, and the feels were more than a little relatable. #NoSpoilers.
Although I enjoyed this story, however, I didn’t love it. It didn’t stir the same emotions as Me Before You and while the ‘new Will’ (or new main character introduced early on to replace the gap he left behind, anyway) had her own set of troubles and a storyline that was mildly intriguing, I found her and her backstory a little unbelievable. It was almost like she’d just been stuck in there as a tool to help Lou recover rather than being a person of any real relevance. Still, the story dealt with some real issues in a sensitive way without the need for sugarcoating, it was an easy read and it was even sort of heartwarming in its portrayal of a person pulling themselves out of a slump.
Long story short: After You isn’t as good as Me Before You, but it’s pretty good in its own right. If you liked the first, it’s almost definitely worth a read… Just don’t go expecting Will to make a surprise appearance, OK? That ship has sadly sailed. ( 🙁 )