Monday, February 5, 2018

Book Review: "Still Me" by Jojo Moyes

Few people can leave me emotionally jumbled quite like Jojo Moyes can. The first book of hers I read, Me Before You, literally had me ugly crying, and I'll admit a healthy sob or two while reading its sequel, After You. Even one of Moyes' standalone books, The Girl You Left Behind, left me puffy-eyed.

Now Louisa Clark returns in a third book, Still Me. While not as sob-inducing as the first two, Moyes still knows how to play my feelings like a piano, and it was wonderful to be back with these characters I've come to "know" over the last few years.

Lou once promised someone special to her that she'd live boldly. But after rebuilding her life following crushing grief, she's finally gotten the courage to do just that, accepting a job working for an ultra-rich family in New York City. She leaves her family and her boyfriend behind and heads to America, ready to say yes to everything life has to offer her.

"You're going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. It always does feel strange to be knocked out of your comfort zone."

Working as the assistant to Agnes Gopnik, the much-younger second wife of a tremendously wealthy financier and philanthropist, Louisa gets to see first-hand that you can have everything you've dreamed of and yet still be crushingly unhappy. Agnes loathes being on public display, judged by the gossipy, vindictive friends of her husband's first wife, yet she is forced to travel in the same social circles. She knows her stepdaughter hates her, knows their housekeeper likes nothing more than to torment her. Yet she finds a kindred spirit in Louisa, in that they're both struggling to be present in two very different worlds.

"You always have one foot in two places. You can never be truly happy because, from the moment you leave, you are two selves, and wherever you are one half of you is always calling to the other. This is our price, Louisa. This is the cost of who we are."

It isn't easy juggling her responsibilities with thinking about her boyfriend and her family back home, all of whom seem to have made great strides in their lives since she's been gone. Louisa likes being in the middle of fancy New York society but sees how it could feel so lonely, and sometimes is torn between the glitz and glamour, and the more comforting security she feels at an endangered library in Washington Heights, or a vintage clothing store which helps feed her unique fashion sense.

When Louisa finds herself in an untenable position because of secrets that have been shared with her, she is unsure where to turn, a situation not helped by her anxieties over her foundering relationship with her boyfriend at home. It takes meeting two people—an elderly woman who knows all about doing it your own way no matter the cost, and a wealthy young man who reminds her of someone she misses dearly—to show her the choices she needs to make, and the importance of remaining true to who you are.

"The key was making sure that anyone you allowed to walk beside you didn't get to decide which you were, and pin you down like a butterfly in a case. The key was to know that you could always somehow find a way to reinvent yourself again."

Still Me was really enjoyable and definitely poignant in places. It's a powerful meditation on being true to yourself, no matter how many people want you to do otherwise, and the struggles doing so may cause. It's also a story about the importance of saying what you think, of expressing how you feel (which these characters were definitely not good at), or else what occurs around you might not be what you wanted.

There aren't a lot of surprises in this book—there were many times when something happened and I thought to myself, "Ah, so this will happen at some point," and I wasn't ever wrong. But that didn't bother me as much as it might with other books, because these characters are so engaging, and Moyes' storytelling just draws you in and feels comfortable and familiar. You could read this book without reading the first two, but you have no idea what you're missing, particularly with Me Before You.

Still Me didn't quite blow me away, but I devoured the book anyway. Louisa is just one of those characters you root for even as she's making missteps, and it's so good to spend more time with her and her family again. This is a series that keeps on giving—the feels, that is.

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