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Me Before You and Dying Young

This post contained spoilers for Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Dying Young by Marti Leimbach.  Don’t read this post if you haven’t read these books and think you may want to read them in the future.  Though read on if both books don’t sound like your cup of tea since this is really about how close is too close when it comes to shared plotlines.

But consider yourself warned about the spoilers.

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Okay, so I just read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  I didn’t just read it; I devoured it.  It has been a long time since I’ve raced through a book like this, sneaking pages into every available second of the day.  I really really really loved it.  I loved her writing style.  I loved the characters.  I loved Louisa and Will’s relationship.  I don’t know why I put off reading this book for so long.

But here is the thing: I already read this plotline back in 1990.  As in, this exact plotline, down to the twist at the end.  It was in a book called Dying Young by Marti Leimbach.

The book, Dying Young, is nothing like the film version with Julia Roberts.  It’s really a gorgeous book that I think a lot of people didn’t read because the film was so maudlin.  The book is about a lower middle class woman (like Louisa) who is hired by the family of an upper class man (like Will) who has cancer (instead of a spinal cord injury).  He has decided to stop treatments and wants her help in ending his life.  Plucky, slightly-awkward Hilary wrangles with arrogant, impatient Victor.  He is constantly trying to change her, to make her become the sparkling diamond he sees in the rough stone.  He wants her to see the world and do something amazing with her life, and she learns how to live by loving someone who is dying.

Does this sound familiar?

Fine, I could write off all the similarities up until this point.  It’s not as if these are the only Pygmalion-drenched lower class girl/upper class boy books.  It’s not as if there haven’t been other books that detail a caregiver relationship that doesn’t deliver the happy ending.

But there are other similarities that take us into a very grey zone.

Both books have tough-as-nail elderly birds who know how to handle the prickly young men.  In Dying Young, it’s the bit character of Estelle.  In Me Before You, it’s Mary Rawlinson.  In both books, there is another man, another outside romantic relationship.  In Dying Young, it’s Gordon.  In Me Before You, it’s Patrick.  In both books there is a parental figure who just doesn’t get it.  In Dying Young, it’s his father.  In Me Before You, it’s his mother.  In both cases, the main woman (Hilary/Louisa) is reporting to that clueless parent behind the man’s (Victor/Will) back.

Both books have women trying to change the mind of the man under their care.  And both books use applying for school as the way both women leave the men they love so they can get on with the dying.  And in both cases, at the very very end, you realize the men are not going to change their minds and will go through with their plan to end their life even though there has been a hiccup beforehand that makes you think you’re going to get a different ending.  Both books even include a hedge maze which holds emotional significance.  Seriously, it’s down to dual hedge mazes.

Both books are lovely, and I enjoyed both in their own right.  Both books do justice to the notion that there is nothing romantic about dying young.  Both books leave the reader gutted, wishing for just a few more minutes, hours, days.

So my first question is how close is too close?  Is this a form of plagiarism?  It sort of feels like it.  If it’s not, what is it?  It’s certainly not homage.

I felt wrong devouring Me Before You, as if I was doing a disservice to Marti Leimbach.  And perhaps Marti has read Me Before You and doesn’t see what I see and isn’t bothered by the similarities.  But if she did notice, aren’t I hurting the first author (Marti) by enjoying the book by the second author (Jojo)?

Could it all be a coincidence?  Yes.  Though Leimbach’s novel was fairly big in the early 90s and turned into a movie with Julia Roberts while she was in her Pretty Woman heyday.  I’d be surprised if Moyes never heard of it.  And I don’t know how you’d accidentally have the hedge maze appear in both related books.

10 comments

1 Chickenpig { 12.16.14 at 8:22 am }

That is incredibly weird. I’ve heard of plotlines and characters that were oddly similar before, but this sounds like an out and out copy, like 50 shades of sex being a copy of Twi-whatever. It sounds like Moyes read Dying Young back in the 90’s and really, really liked it. Liked it so much that she internalized the characters and wrote her own version in her head. She wrote it so well that she couldn’t see keeping it to herself, and was convinced by anyone who worked with her that her book was totally unique. She probably can’t be sued for plagiarism, but it sounds pretty darn close. And it feels kind of ingy, like cheating. If I wrote a book about a hidden school for scientific geniuses that was invisible to the regular world, and they were trying to defeat a mad scientist who was trying to take over the world and be immortal placing his DNA in cloned animals that he was hiding and the kids geniuses had to find them and destroy tem, it would make for a pretty cool story. I would still have to flesh out the characters, sort of, and actually write the book(s), which would be a lot of work, but the lion’s share of the work was done by someone else! I could probably get away with it, but it would still be stealing, and I think it would be wrong. However, I don’t think it would be wrong by association to read them and enjoy them. A good book is a good book, after all.

2 Ana { 12.16.14 at 9:06 am }

Wow. I recently read Me Before You (and it depressed me for about a week) but I’d never read/seen Dying Young. This really lessens my appreciation for Moyes’ writing—while I found the book depressing, I also admired the “unique” and “different” storyline. This was the first book of hers I’ve read, after MANY people raving about her to me, and I’m not super excited to read another anymore.

3 nicoleandmaggie { 12.16.14 at 9:08 am }

It probably depends on the genre. Most new regency romances are just old ones rewritten, but that’s kind of accepted and it’s kind of comforting. Many fantasy best-sellers are just retreads of Romances of Chivalry, but those original authors have been dead for centuries and one can’t complain about a copy of a copy being a copy.

This case sounds pretty bad. Someone in the editorial staff should have caught that hedge maze and turned it into a paint-ball trip or something. (“Those paint-ball thingies hurt!”)

4 a { 12.16.14 at 9:45 am }

I haven’t read Dying Young, but now I’m going to have to. I did like Me Before You, but now I feel sort of cheated…

5 Sharon { 12.16.14 at 11:52 am }

Hmm. I haven’t read either book, but based on what you’ve written here, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lawsuit for theft of intellectual property from the author of the earlier work.

6 Shannon { 12.16.14 at 10:26 pm }

Loved Me Before You, it was one of the first fiction novels I “read” via Audible this fall, and was the one that convinced me I could enjoy audio books as much as I do reading books. I never read Dying Young, but that sounds like way too many coincidences to me. I’d like to think Moyes read it years ago and didn’t consciously mean to steal Marti’s ideas.

But to have a hedge maze in both? Really?

Now I’m not sure I’ll try another of Moyes’ books anytime soon.

7 Me { 05.22.16 at 5:06 pm }

I keep seeing this trailer for the movie, Me before you and had to Google it, I knew it! I had already seen this year’s before. I believe it’s Dying young. Weird.

8 Alma { 06.08.16 at 1:12 am }

Dying Young is by far the better story. First and foremost, it’s actually original while Me Before You was entirely a rip-off of Dying Young. Secondly, unlike Lou, Hilary does not join Victor in his pity party and never agrees with him giving up. Lastly, I am not sure why you didn’t like the movie for Dying Young, but I thought it was superb. I loved the acting in Me Before You, but as the title suggests, the ending was way too selfish for me and unfortunately the twist at the end was a romantic attempt of normalizing the negation of the dignity of human life. It says much about the declining state of masculinity as well as wanting to live for your loved ones. I found Hilary a much stronger, uncompromising character.

9 B { 06.10.16 at 8:07 am }

I saw the trailer and assumed it was a remake, took me a few days to realize it was based on a different book… Even by seeing the trailer it’s the same story.

10 Ditya { 06.18.16 at 12:42 am }

Hi.
This is haunting me too. When i watched me before you trailer two months ago, i directly thought about dying young ms. robert. especially how quirky the fashion of the heroine. I do devoured me before you book after watch the trailer. And decided, that MBY is better than DY. But my curiosity bring me here. And OMG! that reallyyyy realllyy close… this kind of never ending discussion. Like hunger games and battle royale, or you can say thousand other case.

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