By K W Warburton, The Reluctant Spoonie
*Contains spoilers about the plot of Me Before You*
There are many things that are wrong with Me Before You and I’m not talking about the euthanasia/ assisted suicide theme. This review is based on the book version. I’m sure you already know the main plot of the book. A young bubbly girl (Lou) is hired to cheer up a quadriplegic (Will) so that he doesn’t end his life in a Swiss clinic. I bet you’re already rolling your eyes. This book had the potential to be a great way to highlight the daily struggles of living with a disability and becoming a wheelchair user as a young adult. However, this book is not written from the perspective of Will, it is mainly written from the perspective of Lou (+ random chapters from other characters), an onlooker and outsider.
Writing about a person with a disability is just as bad as not writing a book about them at all and in some ways, it is even worse.
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The writer, Jojo Moyes wrote Me Before You after being outraged that a young person with a disability chose to end their own life. Moyes does not have a disability herself and throughout the book, you feel that she is pushing her own anti-euthanasia agenda onto the reader instead of telling a balanced story. The world doesn’t need another book written by a non-disabled onlooker. The general population already holds many of the views outlined in this book.
What we really need is a book that tells the story of a person with a disability in their own words that challenges the common misconceptions about living with a disability.
“I was horrified by this case initially- what mother could do that? – but the more I read about it, I realised that these issues are not black and white. Who is to say what your quality of life should mean?”JOJO MOYES
Mental Health and Long-Term Illness
The main thing that struck me whilst reading the book is that Will is not provided with any mental health support. Additionally, he does not have an occupation such as a creative hobby or charity work that he could do from home. Instead, he just watches films and reads books with Lou. From personal experience, I can tell you that this gets tiresome after a few weeks. This plays to the common stereotype that people with disabilities have nothing to offer the world and cannot make a positive contribution to society.
Instead of shutting Will away in a glorified garage at his parent’s house, an accessible role could have been created for him at the company that he owned.
“’Jesus Christ,’ said my father. ‘Can you imagine? If it wasn’t punishment enough ending up in a ruddy wheelchair, then you get our Lou turning up to keep you company.’”ME BEFORE YOU, CH 1, P 21
The Long Journey
Me Before You had the potential to debunk a few of the common myths of euthanasia within the main plot. Most people think that you book an appointment at a Swiss clinic and off you go. That is not the case at all. Your family and friends are encouraged to be involved with the process, known as the ‘Long Journey‘ which takes place over several months or years. This process not explored in the book at all.
As Will’s ‘carer’ Lou should have been involved in this process as well, but she was not, playing to the common fear that your loved one may hop on a plane one day and never come back. Regardless of your own personal views on euthanasia, a greater insight into Will’s thought process that led him to this decision would have been appreciated.
Overall, the plot of Me Before You views disability in a negative light and does not provide the representation that those of us with disabilities need in film and literature. This book would have been more balanced if it had been written from both Lou’s and Will’s perspective, similar to ‘The Fault in the Stars’ and ‘All the Bright Places’. A greater insight into Will’s thoughts and feelings would have made it a more compelling read.