This is one of those books that has the weight of expectations before you even pick it up. I bought it, actually at a Rainbow Rowell reading, right before the movie came out and everyone was talking about it all the time. Then my sister completely spoiled me for the plot (I asked her to; she wasn’t being a dick), and it sounded like something that would make me angry, so I just never got around to it. Flash forward to this year when the closing of my library due to the pandemic meant I had to pull from my own shelves to read things a lot more than my usual OH SHINY NEW approach would have me doing. Plus also I needed to fill a Read Harder challenge, also from my own shelves, and I decided why not just finally get this over and done with?
Well, first of all before I actually talk about my conflicting feelings about this book, I wish I would have chosen another book for Read Harder, #ownvoices preferably, but my budget and shelves didn’t allow for that to happen. At the very least, I wish I would have chosen a book featuring a character whose disability doesn’t make them suicidal. But it’s over and done with. Oh well.
And now for conflicting feelings.
First of all, this was very readable and well-written. I liked all the characters, the dialogue, the setting, the pace. Basically everything that goes into being a book, I liked. I read this very fast, mostly all on one Saturday morning. I know some people are annoyed by Lou, but I really liked her. I liked the slow burn of she and Will getting to know each other, and watching how they changed each other. I also think it’s clear that Moyes did her homework re: paralysis and quadriplegia. You can practically see Moyes just like Lou on those message boards, seeing the spectrum of human reaction to being in a wheelchair and requiring 24-hour care, and all the health problems and emotional states that come with it. Lou encounters people who hate their condition, just like Will, who want to die, and people who completely accept it and live their lives, and many in between those extremes.
My issue is that Moyes then chose to write a book about someone at the very end of that extreme, and it feels like she did it just to manipulate the reader. Like, the choice to have a main character who wants to die is very deliberate. Why not make another choice? It feels to me like she did the best she could in making Will a three dimensional character, so you understand his choice, but she did that after she decided to write his story in the first place. She could have chosen a different story, and she didn’t, and that’s what makes me so conflicted. Sure, people like Will exist, and maybe she also wanted to write a story about the ethics of assisted suicide when applied to an actual human life, and that’s a story that should be told, but on the other hand, disability and paralysis in particular are so stigmatized, why not choose to write a realistic portrayal of someone learning to live with it? What are the issues there? Instead, we get a story about a man who is so unhappy with the state of his life (and how his life might be in the future), who refuses to accept his situation and learn to live with it, that even meeting the love of his life isn’t enough to convince him to live. And that’s where the focus is.
So, again, within the framework of that story, this is honestly a good book. She did it well, and pulled it off. My problem is that I don’t know how to feel about the story itself. I probably won’t ever. I don’t know! I would be interested to read own voices reviews of this book. I don’t know if I will read the sequels. Probably, but maybe not for a while.
Read Harder Challenge 2020: Read a book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non).
CBR Bingo: Red