So first before I write this review: if you haven’t read Me Before You (the book before After You), then make sure you read it before reading my take on it. Because like any review about a series book (like let’s say, Harry Potter) if you don’t know what’s going on with the characters’ backstories, then it’s going to be hard to catch up. Also, who likes spoilers? I don’t know many people who care for them, unless they just are absolutely certain they will not read the book or watch the movie. So I’ll leave some spaces here before you scroll any further…
Ready? Okay, let’s do this thing. So the book After You carries off after Will Traynor’s assisted suicide (Dignitas) and Louisa is trying her hardest to cope, but ends up falling from her apartment building. Her family tells her to come back home, so she does and gets a job at an airport working at a coffeeshop/bar. Her boss, Richard, is a pain to work with, constantly micromanaging her and forcing her to wear an outfit she doesn’t like. On top of that, she is trying to stay away from people who think of her as the girl who encouraged Will’s suicide. And big surprise: neither we the reader nor Louisa knows that Will had a daughter, but lo and behold Lily shows up at Louisa’s apartment one night because she found out Louisa knew Will. Louisa’s parents also send her to a grief support group, and while at first Louisa doesn’t want to be there, she meets Sam, who is a relative of one of the support group members. Louisa must make a lot of hard decisions in this book: should she accept her newfound relationship with Sam, or not go for it because Will wouldn’t have wanted it? Should she accept a new job offer in a different city or stay put at her day job? Should she let Lily stay at her apartment or risk hurting her feelings by kicking her out?
The book was great, although I am aware of the criticisms around it. There was a lot of backlash from disabled communities because Me Before You suggests that living as a disabled person is useless and disabled people should opt for ending their lives instead of living. I am honestly glad I read the criticisms because I was crying during Me Before You and After You, and I knew I was frustrated with the ending of Me Before You, but I simply couldn’t put my tongue on it. I thought at the end, Did Will just have to go through with suicide? Why couldn’t he and Louisa just grow old together? Why did the key to Louisa’s happiness have to be in another able-bodied person (Sam) in the sequel? Then I read reviews about the film by disability activists and was relieved to know my growing discomfort with the novel’s ending was valid.
Also, from a Nichiren Buddhist perspective, we believe everyone has a mission in life and that mission is give other people hope when we overcome our challenges. We also believe that there is a type of happiness called absolute happiness, where, even if you are going through the worst of times, when you chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, you awaken to your own inner potential (which we all have inside of us) to overcome any obstacle and achieve your goals, so even going through challenges is itself a joy. By the end, I kind of wished Will and Louisa were real so that I could tell them about Nam-myoho-renge-kyo; I’m not saying it would have made Will’s problems go away, but it would have given him hope that he could keep going in life. I cannot speak for disabled people since I am able-bodied, but I know a lot of people who are physically disabled but they keep on living despite the challenges and discrimination they may face as disabled people. I am also aware that suicide is a touchy topic and that my views do not reflect other people’s perspectives. As much as I loved Me Before You and its sequel at first, I am trying to become more aware of the ways in which a lack of accurate representation of disabled people does more harm than good.