It’s been a while since I’ve read a straight-up romance novel. Generally I like reading books from other genres that have a little romance mixed in, but I needed something a little different this month.I picked up Colleen Hoover’s latest novel, It Ends With Us.
About the book: Lily Bloom is finally ready to venture out on her own and start the edgy floral business she’s always dreamed of owning. It’s too bad her father had to die for her to finally have the courage to reach out into the world and forge her own life, but his abuse toward his wife made it hard for Lily to leave home as long as her own presence could offer some protection for her mother. Now, Lily’s an adult determined to escape the cycle of abuse; she absolutely will not love a man who would ever hurt her. When she meets ambitious neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid, she thinks she’s found the perfect man–just in time for her to run into her teenage love, Atlas. Lily helped Atlas survive when he was just a homeless boy fighting to graduate from high school and join the Marines. He told her he would come back for her, but Lily hasn’t seen him since her sixteenth birthday–until she’s on her first real date with Ryle and locks eyes with Atlas at the Boston restaurant they’re dining at. It seems like it’s finally time to move on from her experience with Atlas. But are Lily and Ryle ready for a real relationship, despite the tragedies in their pasts? And what can Lily do when she discovers that it will be harder than she thought to leave the life of abuse her mother accepted behind them?
“Maybe love isn’t something that comes full circle. It just ebbs and flows, in and out, just like the people in our lives.”
Time is an interesting beast in this novel. First, we see some of Lily’s journal entries from previous years, which breaks up the chronology a bit. Lily’s tendency to write journal entries as letters to Ellen DeGeneres is a fresh and fun option for showing the reader pieces of the past. But old letters aren’t the only manipulations of timing in this novel–we also have occasional jumps of several weeks or months between sections of narration. In the end, Lily and Ryle’s relationship seems to have progressed extremely quickly, but seeing chunks of time pass between notable events in the novel helps balance out the pacing. Keeping track of the timeline is never difficult, but the reader sees a good variety of Lily’s life by skipping forward from time to time. Hoover does a great job of including the scenes that are important to the story without bogging down the narration with a lot of in-between detail that’s not strictly necessary.
Best aspect: this is no common love triangle. In fact, there seem to be very few points at which both main men of the story are in Lily’s life at the same time at all. Atlas is her past, and Ryle is her future–at least, Lily thinks so, and thus the reader is led to believe this is the case. This arrangement allows for each main character to develop his/her own quirks. We see Lily trying hard to work on her relationships individually, rather than being wishy-washy and stuck between two good choices. The characters feel realistic, and the plot forms around them, rather than many three-part romances in which the characters feel built for the situation. Strong characters are truly the way to go in all novels, and this book paints them well.
Another plus: I love how modern this book is. I know it was just published earlier this year, but still I was caught by surprise with all the references to 2016 lifestyle trends like screenshots and Ubers. The world of this book felt so realistic. Also, the language in the book felt more informal and original due to its occasional incomplete sentences and reflexive profanity. You know those moments when something happens that you can’t even articulate your feelings for beyond a four-letter swear word? Lily does. I felt like I was right there in her thoughts, even when they weren’t perfect ones, and that made her feel more human, as well.
“I want to succeed, but at this point I’m not even sure if that matters. I had a dream and I busted my ass to make it come true. Whatever happens after today is just icing on the cake.”
Worst aspect: it feels a bit preachy. In her author’s note, Hoover mentions that in this novel, unlike some of her other romances, she’s trying to tackle real-life controversial problems. Some of her details and comments about homelessness and abusive relationships did feel enlightening and help give this novel extra depth, but there were other times I wanted to cringe because Lily made such a show of stating how wrong she’d been to blame her mother for staying in an abusive relationship, and how often she noticed her classmates judging Atlas’ homelessness while she, of course, would never judge him for that. Although those reactions to abuse and homelessness may be the same things we’d see in real life, I felt like I was being hit over the head with the reminders that “it’s not the victim’s fault.” Some of those big messages would have been more powerful if the reader had been allowed to see them for him-/herself through the events and emotions of the book rather than having them pointed out so plainly. Those details made this story more emotional than the fluffy romance I was expecting, but it’s a big turn-off for me to read something obviously moralizing. I like stories with morals. But I don’t like feeling my reading intelligence insulted by having them pointed out for me, like someone telling a joke but then proceeding to explain at the end why it’s funny.
“Sometimes the things that matter to you most are the things that hurt you the most.”
My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I did enjoy the romance, and I did enjoy most aspects of Hoover’s writing style. I think I’ll try another one of her books to see if I’ll like another one better, because based on this book she feels like a promising author, although It Ends With Us may not have been my novel of choice. I did find the events of the novel rather predictable at times, but again I thought it may have been an issue I had only with this book rather than some insurmountable dislike for Hoover’s writing. I’m thinking I’ll try Ugly Love as my next Colleen Hoover choice, and get a better idea for where I stand with Hoover’s romances between a pair of novels rather than basing my judgments on one.
- Nicholas Sparks’ Safe Haven is another romance that addresses the problems of domestic abuse and the difficulty in escaping that sort of life once you’ve been planted in it. Full of fear and hope and a little more action that It Ends With Us, Hoover fans will like this one.
- Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult is another lesser-known book about abusive relationships, this time in a marriage with a celebrity. This one is similar to Hoover’s novel in that there is no clear-cut good and bad; the victim is forced to reconcile the best memories of her husband’s love with the selfish, arrogant man who gets lost inside his roles. As an long-standing popular actor, he has difficulty separating his true identity from that of his characters, and blames his violence on the characters he must learn to portray.
- If you’re looking for another romance with a similar style but different subject, try Jennifer Weiner’s Who Do You Love. This is another one that feels very close to real life, and handles multiple relationships without being stuck in typical love triangle cliches. There are some steamy moments, some sad moments, and all the feels in between. If you like Colleen Hoover’s books, don’t miss Who Do You Love.
What’s next: I’m currently reading the final book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, entitled Morning Star. This series has been one of my favorite reads this year, but it’s so intense, and I’m so sad to be finished with it, that it’s been going rather slowly. Even so, I have to discover Darrow’s fate, and I’ll let you know soon whether this trilogy’s conclusion lives up to expectations after the first two phenomenal books.
The Literary Elephant