Friends, this is my first book review for this blog. I just wish it was for a book I liked better.
If you haven’t read “After You”, by Jojo Moyes, and if you plan to read it, stop here, because this review is SPOILER central.
I enjoyed the first book, “Me Before You”, about the funny and quirky Louisa Clark, bumbling caregiver, and the devastating and devastated Will Traynor, heart-throb quadriplegic. At the end of “Me Before You”, we are supposed to believe that Louisa has grown through her experience with Will into a more confident, adventurous woman. The world is her oyster, and thanks to Will, she can finally see it as that.
The sequel is a major let down from that moment. After Will’s death, Louisa went to Paris, as he had instructed, but she felt out of place there. She tried traveling, but didn’t enjoy it. So, by the time the book opens, she is ensconced in London in a flat bought with her inheritance from Will that she feels guilty for having and she works at a tacky airport bar. This Louisa is old before her time, depressed, drinking heavily, and (horrors!) dressing like a frump in ordinary t-shirts and jeans. The story begins with her falling of the roof of her building. Seriously. That’s how it starts. The first chapters dwell on her injuries and her efforts to convince her family that she didn’t purposely jump from the building. Not particularly a fun read, given that the spunky Louisa I enjoyed from the first book (and movie, I’ll be honest!) is nowhere to be seen in these pages.
In the course of being carted off to the hospital by ambulance after her jump/fall, Louisa is comforted by a studly paramedic – enough attention is paid to the comforting paramedic that it is clear to the reader we will see him again. I guess this is supposed to be the “cute meet” of the story. Later, we’ll find out that the studly paramedic’s name is Sam; he rides a motorcycle, lives in a railway carriage, and is in the process of building his dream house on a hill outside of town. He’s also not put off by the scars left from her rooftop fall, although the many references to her broken hip leave me a little queasy.
Sam may be a hottie cliche, but he is the worst paramedic ever. He gives cute girls rides in the ambulance, he gets into fights while out on calls, and he uses his uniform and equipment to threaten someone. In the pivotal scene, Sam and Louisa are having the “we need to talk about us” moment when he gets a call to one of most dangerous parts of town. Instead of saying, “Hey, let’s pick this up later,” like a responsible professional would do, he takes her with him! Sam is literally an employee on probation, but nevertheless, it’s essential (to the story, apparently) that they continue their intense relationship evaluation in the ambulance while Sam is on duty! When I need a paramedic, I sure hope he won’t be distracted by his girlfriend who is actually there with him at the time. I like my paramedics to be focused on me and my medical situation, not on whether or not their girlfriends can commit.
It’s fortunate for Sam that Louisa was there, because it was up to her to save the day, rescuing not only the gunshot victim the ambulance was originally called for, but also Sam himself, after he stupidly decides to approach armed and angry gang members for what reason I cannot fathom (perhaps to show off for his dull girlfriend who took a ride-along in the ambulance?) and gets shot for his efforts. No wonder this dimwit is on employee probation!
What follows are more hospital scenes and the tried and true “my love interest almost died so I suddenly realize that I cannot live without him” romantic resolution. Somehow Sam gets to keep his job, probably because LOVE. I might have fallen asleep at this point.
There is an entire subplot about Will’s surprise daughter, Lily. The best part of the daughter story line is the development of the relationship between the stiff-upper-lipped Camilla Traynor, Will’s mother, and wild-child teenager Lily Houghton-Miller, Will’s daughter. Camilla was, arguably, my favorite character from “Me Before You”. She’s a mother; I’m a mother. She keeps her feelings buttoned up tight; I do the same. Watching Camilla’s cautious advances toward Lily and Lily’s wary responses culminate into a grandmother/granddaughter bond that is brilliant for both of them is the most satisfying part of the book.
Lily is a teenager with no boundaries. She comes and goes as she pleases (curfew is an unknown word to her), she is rude and moody, drinks, uses drugs, and parties with strangers. Lily’s own mother washes her hands of her, changing the locks on the family home and claiming Lily drove her to need counseling. Obviously, Louisa takes her in, with the happy result that we get to read a chapter’s worth of Louisa’s musings on motherhood, now that she is “raising” a teenager.
To be clear, Lily’s mother, Tanya Miller, is a piece of work. Supposedly, Will Traynor and Tanya dated for a year during college and many thought they’d end up walking down the aisle together. It’s hard to believe Will had such atrocious taste in women. Tanya is painted as a selfish gold-digger, but curiously, she never approached the affluent Will or the Traynor family for anything. Tanya is not a very smart gold-digger.
I had mixed feelings about the subplot involving Lily’s dirty photo. A very nasty boy took an X-rated picture of Lily with his phone and used it to blackmail her into giving him money. An adult friend of her parents happens upon a blackmailing episode and appears to act the hero, taking the phone from the boy and shooing him away, but he turns out to be an even nastier predator. Lily has such turmoil over this that she ends up living on the streets. She was victimized by both men – the nasty boy who took the picture and used it against her, and the nasty man who “rescued” her for a hefty price and kept the phone as collateral. It was an engrossing story, much more interesting and better foreshadowed than Louisa’s maze story from the first book. But, Lily’s story gave Louisa such a convenient opening to tell her maze story again, that it all felt like a setup to link to one of the weaker aspects of the first book, in my opinion.
Hearing the whole sordid tale from Lily, Sam and Louisa are outraged… by the adult family friend. They plan an elaborate ruse (involving Sam, dressed in his paramedic gear) to get the old perv up to Louisa’s flat, get the phone away from him, and exact revenge. They are gleeful over their success, but I can’t help but wonder why all their vengeance is focused solely on the nasty adult man, while the nasty boy who took the picture and harassed Lily for months completely slips their minds.
All things must end, and that includes this book, finally. Nathan, her medic friend from “Me Before You”, beckons Louisa to New York with the offer of a great job as a caregiver. At the end of the book, despite the fact that Louisa has made a love connection with Sam and has promised Lily, the flighty teenager that she’d be there for her, Louisa hops a plane headed for New York. I would have liked the book to be about Louisa having adventures in New York with Nathan, meeting a handsome New York firefighter, and realizing her dreams in the Big Apple. Alternatively, I would have been satisfied with an ending that has Louisa pursuing her fashion design dream by getting into an appropriate school program, helping Sam build his house and keep his job, and keeping tabs on Lily.
Sadly, I just cannot recommend this book.
I give it 2.5 rooftop jumps out of 5.
Book: After You: A Novel
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publication date: September 24, 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd