The Book Shell-f: Jojo Moyes’ “After You”

You’re probably familiar with Jojo Moyes’ charming best-seller “Me Before You,” or at least its film adaptation starring a quirky Emilia Clarke and a quietly handsome Sam Claflin, which was released last May. The tragically sweet story of Louisa “Lou” Clark and the melancholic Will, whom she falls for, was an instant success. The film grossed over $18 million in its opening weekend, and went on to gross over $200 million worldwide.

While you may be familiar with “Me Before You,” due in no small part to its successful film adaptation, you likely haven’t heard of its equally fascinating sequel, “After You.” Where “Me Before You” dealt with the complexities of living life to the fullest, and how that doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to different people, “After You” examines the difficulty of getting through life while grieving.

“After You” finds Lou estranged from her family and living in a small apartment in London that feels more like a place to spend her time than an actual home. She’s working yet another dead-end job, feeling lost in the wake of recent loss and heartbreak, and she struggles to live her life boldly, as she once promised Will she would. Though the storyline is not as exciting as its predecessor’s, “After You” manages to depict the complicated emotional turmoil that follows a personal tragedy.

After a freak accident, Lou is forced to reunite with her family, who are subsequently convinced she is unhappy and suicidal, while Lou contemplates the emptiness she feels. She joins a support group and receives an intriguing job opportunity. But she ultimately doesn’t begin opening up to people again until she meets the headstrong but lonely Lily and becomes a sort of surrogate mother to her.

As Lou struggles with the guilt of past decisions, she finds it difficult to share any of those experiences with the people she meets. However, Lily’s uncanny resemblance to a figure in Lou’s past allows her to focus on helping the lost teenager. While she provides Lily with a place and atmosphere to call home, Lily urges Lou to live her life more fully and enjoy the small things. In the end, each young woman helps the other, and both characters learn to view life from new perspectives. Lou learns the slow and painful — yet natural and rewarding — ability to move forward after grief and heartbreak.

Moyes’ characters remain as relatable and complex as “Me Before You” fans have come to expect. While “After You” is less of a feel-good story throughout, it remains simultaneously funny and sad and complex and distinctly human. Moyes creates a strong and likable voice for Lou, allowing the reader to sympathize as well as empathize with her; the reader rides Lou’s emotional rollercoaster throughout the novel, and while it’s not always pleasant, the ride is undoubtedly worth it. “After You” emphasizes the hard-to-believe truths that it is okay to move on from grief, and that life does, indeed, get better.

Photo: N. Chavannes

Caption: Jojo Moyes’ “After You” is an enchanting sequel to “Me Before You.”

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