My immediate impression was that we were dealing with a bit of a Beauty and the Beast setup – an odd girl who doesn’t fit in goes to care for a gruff, shut-in quadriplegic man and “then somebody bends unexpectedly.” But then she discovers that he is planning to go to Dignitas, an assisted suicide center in Switzerland, and the book becomes an exploration of the indignity of life as a disabled person and a race to see if she can convince him to choose life.
The story isn’t just about this though. There is a theme there about how parents treat their children. Will’s parents are equal parts distant and overbearing. His mother especially goes into extreme overprotective mode after the accident (he is hit by a motorcycle crossing the street) and basically assumes he shouldn’t be left to do anything himself. Louisa’s parents do that thing parents do when they wish their kids would get their shit together – sideways jabs, guilt trips, veiled insults – as she returns time and time again to the job search center to help earn an income for her family. Parents are kind of jerks and you know they mean well but you wish they would be quiet.
In an age of increased advocacy, this book also speaks to the struggles of life as a disabled person. Disabilities run a gamut, and present a plethora of difficulties that the world should accommodate for, and in no way do the obstacles in this book speak for all people, but it gives a glimpse into the concerns of a world that many able bodied people may not even think about.
The overall idea of this book that really captured my heart is the idea that we should listen to what other people love/think/feel and take them at their word. I think I’ve said this before, we live in a world where everyone is screaming into the void, hoping someone will notice them and learn about them and understand them but it is so rare to encounter someone who actually listens, let alone acts on that knowledge. Also everyone feels like they know you better than you might know yourself and they tell you so. There is a great scene in the book, it’s Louisa’s birthday and she invites Will to attend her birthday dinner at her home (and we get the omg he’s rich and my house is such a hovel stuff). Her distant and disconnected boyfriend gets her a gold chain with a small star on it which initially made me feel like “aw, it’s quirky and at least he got her something” until Will gives her two pair of bumblebee tights (black and yellow striped) that he had made for her when she said she loved them as a kid and wished she could have some now but that she couldn’t find them anywhere to buy. My emotions in that scene betrayed me; I felt how I so often feel when people get me gifts, putting out the “well it’s the thought that counts” and feigning thankfulness – it was so familiar and well rehearsed. But when she unwrapped the tights, I think I cried a bit. Someone heard her. Someone listened to her heart. Someone made it about her on her birthday, which is what it should be. Now the obvious, much more serious example is that Will’s family should support his decision to end his own life given his circumstances, but I feel like that example could be a bit…divisive? It’s the same idea though.
There are studies on studies on studies that talk about how using social media actually makes people feel more lonely. I maintain that I would rather be completely alone than be in a room full of people and feel lonely. Said another way, sometimes loneliness feels even worse when you have people around you. It’s like you get into an argument with yourself “look at all these people, why do you feel lonely? Is something wrong with you? You have no excuse!”
This book isn’t about social media, but our characters are isolated and forced to deal with their lives alone despite the fact that they are surrounded by others. They are lonely. Who is listening? Who really cares about them? Reading this book allowed me to enjoy the moments when people got out of their own way to truly care about others and honor their wishes.
PS: This book did not make me cry. Don’t be afraid to read it. 🙂