Still Me by Jojo Moyes
Viking, 2018; 390 pp
Reviewed by Sarah J. Schlosser
Does one need to read the previous two books in the series of Jojo Moyes’s three-part collection of Me Before You, parts 1 and 2, in order to best appreciate Still Me? Probably not, although I was lucky enough to have done so. If you are a fan of sharp British prose and humor, a chick-lit premise that leads to surprisingly deeper meaning, and a fictional how-to manual of breaking out of the doldrums, then all three books will be like a feast for the mind. If not, and if you just want a light read and maybe a glimpse on a take of the outsider’s view on American culture, then Still Me can stand alone for you.
In terms of prudent details from previous books, Moyes fills everything in without restating or resting on the other texts. Louisa Clark’s past haunts her enough as part of the plot that the references come naturally, and sometimes fit more neatly than any other catalyst could. Still healing from losing the love of her life, Will Traynor, and trying to make a relationship work with another challenged soul in a paramedic named Sam, Louisa is challenged by a friend to take a job in New York City as a personal assistant for a perceived gold-digger wife of an aging and reknowned financial and legal wonder in Manhattan. Caught up in the wonder and the animosity of the city and the family, Louisa shapes herself to phenomenal wealth with discretion, but starts to lose a little of herself along the way. When a death in her family and a possible revelation in the family of her employer leads to the loss of her glamorous job, she finds a quieter way, mere feet from her old job, to growth and hope. There are glimpses along the way in her glamorous days of a more authentic existence; Louisa discovers a hidden vintage clothing warehouse off the beaten path that helps to rekindle her love of quirky fashion, and through befriending the doorman in her posh building discovers the wonder of a struggling library in Washington Heights. The library is her doorway into a more down-to-earth definition of family in the doorman’s wife and children and their delicious meals surrounding the protests to keep the library open; Louisa finds the expansive ways a library serves a community other than just the borrowing of books:
At one point Meena and I went inside . . . I got a chance to see what I was apparently fighting for. The building was old, with high ceilings, visible pipework and a hushed air; the walls were covered with posters offering adult education, meditation sessions, help with CVs and payment of six dollars per hour for mentoring classes. But it was full of people, the children’s area thick with young families, the computer section humming with adults clicking carefully on keyboards . . . A handful of teenagers sat chatting quietly in a corner, some reading books, several wearing earphones. I was surprised to see two security guards . . .
“Yeah. We get a few fights. It’s free to anyone, you know?” whispered Meena. “Drugs usually. You’re always gonna get some trouble.”
This kind of passage is classic Moyes; she presents you with a supposition of girl adventure in the big world, with romance and warm moments, and then the warm moment propels you right into an accessible reality. In her earlier books she took other social issues in the same way; the reader has seen the argument in real life, but hear it is again, softly laid at the reader’s feet in fiction, without heavy-handed lecture but instead pure observation. If you live in a big city you’ve seen a library like this, if you live in a small town you’ve seen the same aspects on a more rural scale, but it’s there, too. Moyes may look like she’s giving the reader eye candy, fashion and Manhattan in the story to lure in the reader, but she’s got her vitamins in there, too.