Love stories fall into two camps. There are those that are epic, tragic and beloved. And there are those that are overwrought, exaggerated and ridiculed. JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You introduces a third category, one in which the romantic relationship takes a back seat to larger issues at play in a way that simultaneously respects and amplifies the characters’ love beautifully.
Recently laid off and practically unemployable, 26-year-old Lou Clark desperately takes a position caring for a quadriplegic man in her small English town. Expecting to find an older invalid, she is at once intrigued and horrified to discover that her charge, one Will Traynor, is in fact a formerly adventurous 35-year-old man whose world is racked by pain and fury. He is silent, angry and frustrated, while she is quirky, talkative and hopeful—while hiding a secret of her own. Over time, she breaks his walls down. Over time, they fall in love.
And here’s where the story takes a turn you wouldn’t expect. Despite Lou’s connection with Will, despite the way they love and need each other, they are dealt challenges that normal couples simply do not face. These include not only Will’s physical inabilities, but also his psychological obstacles and where Me Before You shines is in its ability to humanly portray these. As Will rages against the machines and medicines he depends on for life, Lou seeks advice and comfort from online forums for paralyzed individuals and their loved ones. Together, they face these challenges head on, taking the reader on a breath-holding ride as they do so.
That’s not to say Me Before You is without fault. At times, the plot becomes predictable and the dialogue overdone. But what outweighs this is the way Moyes unravels the story, revealing slowly, then all at once, the secret weighing down the Traynor family and the steps Lou must take to make things right. In doing so, Moyes does not baby the reader, does not back down from the harsh decisions the characters must make. Perhaps that is why it is believable that Lou and Will fall in love. They don’t fall in love against the odds—they fall in love because of them.
As with Me Before You, I expected this crostata to be flaky, if sweet. Pleasantly, I was wrong about each of them. The hint of orange and cinnamon add subtle layers to the plums, which grow soft and syrupy when baked. With a crust that’s light but firm, there’s no escaping its embrace.
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
- 1/4 cup ice water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
- 1 pound firm-but-ripe plums, pitted and cut into thin wedges
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1. In a food processor, add the 1 1/4 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the salt and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle on the ice water and pulse until the dough just barely comes together. Gather the dough and pat it into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.
- 2. Preheat the oven to 425 and position a rack in the lower third. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll out the disk of dough to a 12-inch round; transfer to the baking sheet. Chill the dough until firm, 15 minutes.
- 3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the remaining 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar with the cornstarch, cinnamon and orange zest. Add the plums and toss well. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is mostly dissolved, about 15 minutes.
- 4. Arrange the fruit in the center of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border all around. Fold the edge of the dough up and over the plums. Brush the rim with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
- 5. Bake the plum crostata for 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is tender and bubbling. Let the crostata cool on the baking sheet for 30 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve.
- The prep time may seem long, but most of it is spent waiting for the dough to chill. In fact, the dough can be made up to three days in advance and kept in the fridge.