From grief to peace

After You - Jojo Moyes

This book is a sequel to the author’s book Me Before You. The story follows the same heroine, Louisa Clark, after the events of the previous book. It’s impossible to talk about this novel without revealing at least some spoilers from what came before. In the book #1, Louisa fell in love, but her beloved, Will Traynor, died. In this novel, Louisa is learning to cope with her grief.

The plot of this book, with its small events and expected detours, is not as important as the characters. The author is a master in painting multifaceted, controversial people.

Louisa herself is the undisputed star of the tale, but many help her on her complex journey, a journey back to love and life. Her family leads the cast, and the intricate web of relationships between the family members made me nod in agreement more than once. There is a blue collar father, gruff and loving. There is a homemaker mother who after three decades of marriage decides to explore her feminist tendencies. There is a sister, and the commonplace sibling rivalry weaves its way around the main tune: family love and acceptance.

Another supports structure also helps Louisa deal with her issues – a grief counseling group. The group is meeting once a week in a local church, and although at first, Louisa doesn’t see anything in common with the other group members, their problems and their sincerity in discussing them help her untangle her own convoluted knot of pain and guilt.

There is also Sam, a paramedic, Louisa’s inevitable love interest, but of all the other characters of this story, Sam is the least interesting. He serves as an object of Louisa’s new love, a highlight on her way to recovery, almost a prop rather than a person for his own sake. The story could’ve easily prospered without him or with a different him.

The same couldn’t be said about Lily. She is instrumental in Louisa’s healing, not because she helps in any way but because she needs Louisa. Lily is a teenager who appears out of the blue on Louisa’s doorstep and claims she is Will Traynor’s daughter. Neck-deep in her own shit, Lily drinks and smokes and does drugs. She is rude and disdainful, with thorns on every side, and even her own mother washed her hands of her. But Louisa can’t turn Lily away.

Lily is so alive, a typical self-absorbed teenager, she can’t even comprehend the depth of Louisa’s grief. She says what she thinks, and it doesn’t enter her mind to be conciliatory or even courteous. She needs to find her own circle, the people who would love her no matter what, and she lashes out right and left to conceal her vulnerability.

As the story unfolds, Louisa becomes a conduit of love for Lily’s aching heart. Lily’s needs are greater than Louisa’s anguish, and Louisa knows it. She has no choice but to put aside her own mourning, climb out of her shell of numbness, because otherwise she can’t help Lily.

Lily is such a strong, colorful personage, she almost stole Louisa’s show, and neither Louisa, nor the readers begrudge her for that.

This was a powerful, heart-warming book. The only reason it didn’t get 5 stars from me was that it started slowly. But when it finally gathered its steam, it pulled me into itself and made me smile and cry and love its characters very much.