C O N T A I N S S P O I L E R S !!!
Welcome to our discussion feature! Lately, we’ve been realizing that sometimes a review just isn’t enough… We want to share our thoughts with people using actual textual examples… AKA ‘SPOILERS.’ It is, of course, rude to give away too much in book reviews, although it is a delicate line to walk. You don’t want your review to be bereft of examples, but you can’t push it too far. There are always spoiler tags of course… but we’ve been wanting to write full-on essays about certain books, and tags just aren’t good enough for us anymore. We need to write more down!
This time around, I (Ellen) want to discuss a very popular book of the moment. Yes, this post is a discussion of It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover.
A Summary of It Ends With Us
The book opens with our main character, Lily Bloom, sitting on a ledge of a very high building in Boston. She’s contemplating the vicious eulogy she gave for her father earlier in the day. As she enjoys the night sky, a very handsome man joins her on the roof. His name is Ryle Kincaid and he’s a neurosurgery resident. The two quickly develop a rapport, but Lily turns down Ryle’s offer of a one-night stand.
Months later, Lily decides to open a flower business and immediately hires a perky woman, Allysa, who she met on the street. But Lily is soon surprised to find out that Allysa’s brother is none other than Ryle Kincaid! The doctor and the florist are thrust together once again, and despite Ryle’s reservations about dating, the two start to see each other after beginning a sexual relationship. But Lily is rocked when she runs into her old friend and lover from her teenage years, Atlas Corrigan.
When Lily was a teenager, her world was very tragic, because her father routinely lay violent hands on her mother. To comfort herself, Lily wrote diaries to her hero, Ellen Degeneres. In present day Boston, Lily reads her old letters to Ellen, and thinks back to how she met Atlas. A homeless teen, Atlas was squatting in an abandoned house behind Lily’s own home. Atlas and Lily became close friends and allies, gradually falling in love. When Atlas turned eighteen he enlisted, but he and Lily consummated their relationship before he left for overseas. They vow to meet again one day in Boston.
In the present day, Lily decides to stay with Ryle, despite having rediscovered Atlas. She is soon madly in love with Ryle. But her beau has issues with anger, and is soon repeatedly* pushing and shoving Lily in moments of rage, even sending her to the hospital for stitches. Despite the abuse, Lily marries Ryle. (*Note: A commenter has kindly pointed out that there was only one instance of violence prior to the marriage.)
Lily’s breaking point eventually comes when Ryle discovers Lily’s old diaries and reads them. Enraged that Lily had not been more forthcoming about her connection with Atlas, Ryle harms his wife and then attempts to rape her, before changing his mind. Lily calls Atlas, who picks her up and takes her to the hospital. They discover that Lily is pregnant with Ryle’s baby.
During her pregnancy, Lily debates whether or not she should return to Ryle. Ryle has confessed that he accidentally shot his brother as a child with his parent’s gun, which left him emotionally damaged, experiencing violent blackouts. Lily is moved by the admission, but when her daughter is born, she decides to divorce Ryle.
The story ends with Lily taking the baby to Ryle for his appointed day with her. She bumps into Atlas on the street. They greet each other warmly, then part ways. But then, at the last moment, Lily decides to run down the street to Atlas and confess her desire to be with him.
The Author’s Note
The most important part of It Ends With Us is the Author’s Note, I think. In it, Colleen Hoover shares the deeply personal story of how her father seriously abused her mother up to the point of their divorce. In one instance, Hoover recalls getting out of bed as a child, hearing a commotion, and seeing her father throw a television at her mother and hit her. She also confesses that some of the situations of abuse related in the novel, It Ends With Us, are things that actually happened to her mother.
However, Hoover says that her father only engaged in abuse towards his spouse. To his kids, he was non-violent. She writes:
She divorced him before I turned three. Every memory beyond that of my father was a good one. He never once lost his temper with me or my sisters, despite having done so on numerous occasions with my mother.
I knew their marriage was an abusive one, but my mother never talked about it. To discuss it would have meant she was talking ill of my father and that’s something she never once did. She wanted the relationship I had with him to be free of any strain that stood between the two of them. Because of this, I have the utmost respect for parents who don’t involve their children in the dissolution of their relationships.
That, I think, is an incredibly controversial sentiment and Hoover seems to take a hard line on it. She even promotes her stance in It Ends With Us, having Lily decide to share custody of her baby with her abuser. Here’s a quote that I thought sounded particularly like Hoover talking through Lily:
“I know, Ryle. You would never intentionally hurt your own child. I don’t even believe it was intentional when you hurt me, but you did. And trust me, I want to believe that you would never do something like that. My father was only abusive toward my mother. There are many men—women even—who abuse their significant others without ever losing their temper with anyone else. I want to believe your words with all my heart, but you have to understand where my hesitation comes in. I’ll never deny you a relationship with your child. But I’m going to need you to be really patient with me while you rebuild all the trust you’ve broken.”
For one thing, in It Ends With Us, Lily’s father actually does hurt his daughter, sending her to the hospital.
I had to get nine stitches in my forehead. I’m still not sure what I hit my head on, but it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, my father was the reason I was hurt and he didn’t even stay and check on me. He just left us both there on the floor of the garage and left.
So, in the book, Lily apparently enters into denial that her father ever hurt her, and uses the reasoning, “there are many men—women even—who abuse their significant others without ever losing their temper with anyone else,” to justify giving her abusive ex unsupervised access to their daughter.
What the fuck?! I cannot agree with Hoover’s stance here. I’m not a parent, but the idea of risking the safety of a child on the optimistic assumption that a known abuser wouldn’t hurt his/her own child seems crazy to me.
Oh yeah, and in the book, Ryle’s abuse goes unreported. Lily gives her abuser access to their child with his history of violence unreported!
Does Hoover Romanticize An Abuser?
After reading It Ends With Us, I went to Goodreads to see what other readers were saying. What I saw, shocked me. Here’s a quote from a comment on a Ryle-positive review:
“Ikr, I loved Ryle! And I hoped until the end that [Lily] would change her mind! I know, I know, he abused her, but still… I don’t know, he was really a good person who did bad things, and I forgive him for what he did…”
Apparently, there are readers who are taking away a very troubling message from It Ends With Us. And while it’s a personal choice how readers react to a story, I can’t help but think that Hoover portrayed Ryle, the abuser, in a very sympathetic light. Take a look at the scene where we learn the tragic reason behind Ryle’s explosive rage…
I can’t hold in the tears. I just start crying and he wraps his arms tightly around my waist and lays his head on my lap. “I shot him, Lily. My best friend. My big brother. I was only six years old. I didn’t even know I was holding a real gun.”
Ryle walks over to me, taking my hands and pulling me to him. We hug each other for a solid minute when he says, “I would never tell you this because I want it to excuse my behavior.” He pulls back and looks me firmly in the eyes. “You have to believe that. Allysa wanted me to tell you all of this because since that happened, there are things I can’t control. I get angry. I black out. I’ve been in therapy since I was six years old. But it is not my excuse. It is my reality.”
There have been many cases where children accidentally hurt or kill people because they have access to guns. So this tragic scenario isn’t fantasy. However, it is not a common backstory for abusers, to say the least. I really worry that Hoover built an unrealistically appealing representation of an abuser here.
Moreover, a lot of younger girls read Colleen Hoover books. I hope that they’d be able to read It Ends With Us and come away with a strong stance against domestic violence.
The Bottom Line
I can’t get behind this book. Even though Colleen Hoover has witnessed domestic violence within her own family and I have not, I find myself unable to agree with some of her opinions that she relates through her story and in her author’s note. I find my difference of opinion uncomfortable, because wouldn’t Hoover know better than me?
But I can’t accept Hoover’s stance based off of her personal expertise alone. I have to trust my own gut and my own brain. And they’re telling me that It Ends With Us doesn’t end on an inspiring note.
Update: Some of the feedback I’ve been getting for this post expresses disappointment that I could be drawing readers away from a potentially inspirational read. I totally understand the point, but I stand by my opinion that It Ends With Us has definite and concerning issues. I think that people should read It Ends With Us if they want to… and then make up their own mind. However, I will also recommend Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen, as a fantastic, alternative book to read on the subject of domestic violence.