JoJo Moyes is a popular British author of women’s fiction with thirteen notches (novels) to her belt. She’s been a two-time winner of the Romantic Novelist’s Award, and Me Before You garnered a nomination for Book of the Year at the UK Galaxy Book Awards, going on to sell over three million copies worldwide. The decision to resurrect the protagonist of that novel, Louisa Clark, was a no-brainer: Moye’s fans clamored for more. And it’s easy to see why.
After You, the sequel to Me Before You, imagines the life of Louisa several years after the death of her true love, Will Traynor, a quadriplegic who ended his own life with a little help from his friends. Ideally, the reader would read the first book first; however, I am happy to report that After You is strong enough to stand on its own.
Louisa, a working-class woman, seems to be fumbling around with no direction in her life. She hears Will’s voice in her head, tries to heed his advice, but she is paralyzed by inertia. Though only in her mid-twenties, she is apathetic to an extreme degree, willing herself to be satisfied with a truly ridiculous and somewhat demeaning job, a boss from hell, a bare unpainted apartment, no social life and no friends. She is estranged from her once close-knit family. Her only outlets seem to be hitting the booze after a day’s work or infrequently, the pub.
A near fatal accident deposits her back in the arms of her family temporarily, but long enough for her to renew ties, and to begin to appreciate their loving support. Because the circumstances of her accident have created doubts in the minds of her relatives as to her mental health, her dad requests that she enroll in a weekly bereavement group.
The Moving On group becomes the vehicle for incremental change and the key to her recovery. The second factor that pushes her out of her funk is the discovery that Will Traynor has left behind something even he did not know about. New people are introduced into Louisa’s life, shaking up her deadening routine, and forcing her to take on new roles and new responsibilities. Ever a caregiver, Louisa drifts back into that role, but ultimately gains the strength to make the kind of decisions that will ensure she is taking care of herself first. And yes, there is a new romance—talk about meeting cute!— with a very appealing specimen (in uniform).
Though the trajectory of the novel may sound a bit uninspired, Moyes’ skill as a novelist lifts this story above its more melodramatic moments—particularly the two (!) near-fatal accidents in the story. The character of Louisa is entirely believable as are her changes in perspective. Because these changes do not happen overnight, instead occurring slowly as the novel unrolls, the reader is with Louisa all the way, silently nudging her to get out of her rut, take some chances, and live a little. As she takes her first baby steps, the reader continues egging her on and cheering every small victory.
Characterization is Moyes’ strong point. Louisa emerges as a real person with problems in the real world, on her way to becoming a lost soul when events knock her out of the cocoon she’s built for herself. The changes in her outlook do not seem to occur overnight. The reader starts fidgeting and getting impatient with her as she turns down opportunities for growth. At the moment that she finally takes a courageous first step to claiming back her life, the reader is more than ready to cheer her on and to let go.
The trajectories of the other characters are equally engrossing. The teenage character especially is sketched in a vivid, true-to-life fashion with dialogue and actions instantly recognizable and relatable. The members of Louisa’s immediate family provide some comic relief, imperfect as they are, and struggling themselves to mature into new roles. Her mother, the budding feminist, is a hoot, and her father, whose world is being turned upside down, is a lovable, befuddled pensioner. Growing up, relinquishing past habits and modes of living, moving on—the journey, Moyes implies, is never over.
After You is best consumed quickly, on your sofa, in your bathrobe with a hot mug of tea beside you, and if possible, your furry cat snuggled in close. Unlike the proverbial après Chinese dinner sensation, an hour later the reader still feels that she has dined well.
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