On the surface, Me Before You seems like the classic rom-com. Louisa is lovable, ditsy but kind, while Will is snobby and obnoxious. They’re opposites from very different financial worlds, and it is entirely down to fate that they are brought together. Yet Me Before You is so much more than your typical “chick lit”—it has heart and true tragedy. Moyes handles the delicate topic of assisted suicide well; it is what makes this novel unique. This novel does the one thing most will never dare—it proves that love is not always enough. It cannot cure those paralysed from the neck down. The beauty of Will and Louisa’s love story is that they can accept this and the little time they have for what it is. The following novels will engross and devastate you for their tragedies, yet overwhelm you with the beauty of living in the midst of great suffering.
1. After You, by Jojo Moyes
If you loved Me Before You, you’ll love the follow up novel, After You. We pick up where Me Before You left off, with Louisa travelling the world in the wake of tragedy. When she’s forced to return home, she feels like she’s back where she started before Will changed her life. She decides to join a support group to help with her grief where she happens upon Sam, a paramedic who just might understand life and death the way she does. But moving on is never easy, as Louisa is about to discover. This novel has all the warmth, humour, and honesty that made Me Before You such a hit. Even when it talks about death and its cruelty, this novel, like its predecessor, manages to ultimately be a feel good read.
2. My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult
My Sister’s Keeper is all about love living alongside the hardship that comes with trying to save a sick child. Kate Fitzgerald is diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia at the age of four. This leads the Fitzgerald’s to have a test-tube baby, Anna, who will have the blood to save Kate’s life. However, nothing is ever enough, and years later when Kate requires a kidney transplant, Anna refuses and sues her parents for medical emancipation. Anna’s parents are left with an impossible decision of which child is more important. This novel is morally grey, the boundary lines obviously blurred, and though you often condemn the girls’ mother, you cannot help but sympathize with her. It becomes apparent early on that saving one child means losing the other, and what makes this novel so gut-wrenching is understanding the impossibility of the situation. Like Me Before You, Picoult offers a controversial situation in her novel, but she handles it with emotional poignancy and understanding, just as Moyes does.
3. PS I Love You, by Cecelia Ahern
Holly and Gerry fight like cats and dogs, but they share a deep love that they hope will last forever. When Gerry is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, the pair face the fact that a lifetime is not in store for them, and when Gerry dies, Holly grows depressed. After the funeral, she receives a box of letters from Gerry to help her get through her grief, each letter ending with “PS I love you.” Like Me Before You, this is a tragicomedy. There are moments of huge devastation where your eyes fill with tears as you turn the page, and just as many when you burst out laughing at the ridiculous things Gerry asks Holly to do from beyond the grave. Best of all, it reminds us that there is life after death, which makes this the perfect follow up read to Me Before You.
4. A Walk To Remember, by Nicholas Sparks
Landon Carter needs a date to his school dance, but there’s no one desirable available. He reluctantly asks Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the local minister, and is both relieved and annoyed when she accepts. Jamie is as God-fearing as her father and the pair have nothing in common, but through a few returned favours, Landon begins to fall in love with Jamie. However, Jamie has a secret that makes Landon falling for her a big problem. Nicholas Sparks is known as one of the best romantic novelists there is, and A Walk To Remember is one of his most gut-wrenching. Like Will and Louisa, it is not love at first sight for Landon and Jamie, but the pair form a natural bond, proving the age-old theory that opposites attract.
5. One Day, by David Nicholls
Emma and Dexter meet at a party on the eve of their graduation and enjoy one night of fun, knowing they’ll be separated the next day to start their adult lives. Emma wants to make a difference in the world, while Dexter is a play-boy who’s only focus is travelling and partying. Nicholls then takes us through each year of Emma and Dexter’s lives from then on and the moments that both keep them together and drive them apart. As with many romance novels, it seems like the timing is never right for them, and they’re consistently separated. But as with the best romance novels, they always seem to find their way back to one another. Emma is warm and kind like Louisa, just as Dexter is a serial partier, the way that Will was before his accident. Yet over time, both couples set aside their differences to grow closer, creating a bond that will be a foundation for the rest of their lives.
6. Where Rainbows End, by Cecelia Ahern
Alex and Rosie have been friends since they were babies. They grow up together, go to school together, and there is always this idea that one day they’ll end up together. But as the pair grows, life gets in the way, pulling Rosie in one direction and Alex in another. They try to stay in contact through text messages and emails, but every time it seems like they’re finally going to admit their love for one another, something or someone gets in the way. Where Rainbows End is a story about missed chances and misunderstandings, much like a modern day Jane Austen novel. But like Me Before You, there’s humour amidst the tragedy, and even when Alex and Rosie feel the farthest away from one another, their love endures. The film adaptation of Where Rainbows End is called Love, Rosie, starring Lily Collins as Rosie and Sam Claffin as Alex, who incidentally also plays Will in the film adaptation of Me Before You.
7. Atonement, by Ian McEwan
Cecelia and Robbie have grown alongside one another in mutual disdain, but now that they’re adults, there is an undeniable attraction between them. Cecelia comes from a good family, while Robbie is the son of one of her servants. At a party at Cecelia’s home, the pair finally give into their budding feelings, only to be witnessed and misunderstood by Briony, Cecelia’s younger sister. After a crime is committed at the party, Briony falsely accuses Robbie, and the lovers are separated by the most tragic of circumstances. What ensues from this mistake will cost all three of them dearly. Perhaps one of the most tragic love stories ever written, Atonement, like Me Before You, is crippled with unfair circumstances that keep the characters from living happy lives. As the title would suggest, the major theme of the novel is the quest for atonement, and the question of whether you can ever take back something so devastating.
8. This Is How It Ends, by Kathleen MacMahon
As the cover of the novel suggests, This Is How It Ends is “a story of unexpected and life changing love.” Set against the background of the economic collapse in Ireland, Addie is now an unemployed architect. With no relationship and no children, she feels like every aspect of her life is in ruins, until she meets Bruno. Bruno is a banker, escaping the financial crisis in America, and feeling equally lost. Amongst their mutual devastation, Addie and Bruno find moments of joy, giving one another purpose regardless of their circumstances. This novel is a romance, but it is also a commentary on nationality and identity, and the crippling effects of unemployment on mental health. At times the love story falls flat—it is not the epic love shared by many of the other couples on this list, but what makes it special is that the pair choose one another despite the odds. Just as Louisa and Will face elements bigger than themselves, so do Addie and Bruno.
9. The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green
Nothing portrays tragic love better than The Fault In Our Stars. Hazel and Gus meet at a cancer support group, which as far as first meeting spots go, is not the best in the hopes of making lasting connections. Hazel knows this, and because her cancer is terminal, she tries to keep Gus at arm’s length to protect them both from unnecessary pain. But Gus is nothing if not persistent, and he is intent on making Hazel live her life while she has it instead of hiding inside herself. Slowly as Hazel begins to absorb all that life has to offer, she falls for the one who showed her this in the first place. As Louisa falls for Will, knowing they would have a difficult and potentially short life together, Gus falls for Hazel. In both cases they are adamant about expressing their love. Louisa and Gus encompass the belief that a diagnosis should push you to grab life rather than shy from it.
10. Looking For Alaska, by John Green
Miles cannot help but fall in love with Alaska, the cool girl from his new school in Alabama. Miles is a romantic, obsessed with the last words of famous people, and out to seek an adventure, or what he calls “a great perhaps.” Upon meeting Alaska, he believes she could be the key to just that—the only problem is she has a boyfriend. While Miles tries to win her affections, the pair get caught up in prep school life, causing chaos and playing pranks on the richer kids. Like Louisa and Will, Miles and Alaska are opposites. Miles is studious and largely rule-abiding, while Alaska is wild and rule-breaking. Yet Alaska is just what Miles needs at this time in his life. That they should meet when Alaska is unavailable is the same crutch Louisa finds herself with Will, but in both cases, their friendship leads to something more meaningful.
11. How To Fall In Love, by Cecelia Ahern
Walking one night in Dublin, Christine sees Adam, a stranger, preparing to jump off the Ha’penny Bridge. After a few attempts to get him off the ledge, Christine bets him she can prove life is worth living before his 35th birthday. As the pair embarks on crazy journeys, Christine thinks she’s getting through to Adam, proving there’s a lot to love in life. But while Adam is falling back in love with being alive, Christine is falling in love with him. Christine is much like Louisa from Me Before You, and they’re faced with similar situations.