It Ends With Us ~ #JNGReads

This has been a year of me reading books that I don’t feel qualified to review.

It started when I read Thirteen Reason Why earlier this year. Although I have suffered from anxiety since my early high school days, I have never felt such all-encompassing depression that I have contemplated suicide. I could not relate to Hannah’s emotional or mental state while reading the novel, and while that did not affect my overall enjoyment of it whatsoever (I do not feel it is necessary to identify with a character in order to connect with them or enjoy reading their story), it did make me feel like I had no place reviewing the novel or giving it a numeric rating. The novel wasn’t my favourite for many reasons, mainly because of how it was written, but I didn’t feel like I could actually critique it because of how important the subject matter was and how imperative I believe it is that everyone, particularly teenagers, read the story.

How do you review something that you think everyone needs to read, even if you didn’t love it and for reasons far more significant than enjoyment?

I still haven’t figured out the answer to that question, and I certainly didn’t have it when I read the novel It Happens All The Time just a short while ago. That was another novel that dealt with such important subject matter as rape and consent, and I felt totally inadequate reviewing it, considering that I have been lucky enough to never find myself in the positions of the main characters. Again, I felt that the subject matter was so poignant and timely that every reader should pick up the novel, but I didn’t absolutely love how the story was articulated or how the characters’ narrations were portrayed.

Now, here I am again, trying to review a novel that just shouldn’t be reviewed. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover is so much more than a romance, and I’m actually thinking that it was a mistake to choose this as my first experience of Hoover’s writing. As far as I know, Hoover is an established and much loved romance writer, but It Ends With Us is apparently a departure from her usual style and genre. In this novel, Hoover decides to investigate the more complicated, complex and tragic side of a relationship, and the romance between the two main characters takes almost a backseat to their struggles.

I should warn you all that SPOILERS are ahead. If you don’t want to have any idea of what happens in It Ends With Us before picking it up, I urge you to stop reading this review here.

It is nearly impossible to talk properly about It Ends With Us without mentioning that it focuses on domestic abuse. Not only is domestic abuse a huge part of the upbringing of the main character and narrator, Lily Bloom, it also becomes a component of her own marriage to Ryle Kincaid. This is where the novel becomes both heartbreaking and profound – Hoover chooses to not just write an average, mundane, cookie-cutter romance; she chooses instead to focus on the nitty gritty of an abusive relationship, and investigate the emotions that a woman being physically and mentally abused would endure. There are a lot of romance novels out there, but very few that do something interesting, that actually talk about important topics, and Hoover totally turns the romance genre on its head and does a complete 180 with it.

I wholeheartedly respect that and I found her treatment of domestic abuse fascinating and enlightening. I love and appreciate novels with grey area – my favourite characters are the ones who are not simply black or white, good or bad, perfect or irrevocably flawed.

“‘There is no such thing as bad people. We’re all just people who sometimes do bad things.’” ~ Ryle

There was not a moment in the novel that I thought that Lily should leave Ryle, just as there was not a moment when I thought she should not leave him – I had no idea what Lily should do because although I tried my hardest to put myself in her position, I simply could not. My experience and identity as a reader is limited in that way, and so I could sympathize with Lily’s circumstances and wish that she would find happiness, but I could not decide for her. That is the most hard-hitting aspect of It Ends With Us; Hoover expertly and subtly comments on the notion that people are far too easily inclined to judge others, to pronounce opinions on other people’s situations without having any real idea of what it is like to properly be in them. There are many people out there who would say of a woman in Lily’s position, Why doesn’t she just leave him? There are many people who would blame Lily for not walking away earlier, for not standing up for herself. But how many of those people have lived through a relationship like Lily and Ryle’s? How many of them have had to rip themselves away from the person they love, even if they know it is technically the right and most healthy thing to do? Hoover teaches us all, her readers, her audience, to critique less and support more, to be there for others without trying to control them, to practice compassion rather than judgment. I respect so much that Hoover has chosen to use her popularity as a romance writer to draw attention to an issue that is far too often overlooked and misunderstood by society at large.

Having said that, the reason why I find it so hard to traditionally review It Ends With Us is because there is one aspect of the story that bothered me a little bit (only enough to lower my necessary Goodreads numeric rating by 1-star, mind you). This particular detail is the aspects of the novel pertaining to Lily’s somewhat romantic relationship with Atlas, her first love. While I definitely do NOT think Ryle’s jealousy was justified or was an excuse for his treatment of Lily, I did feel that Lily’s interactions with Atlas and her reminiscing on her teenage relationship with him, both before she began dating Ryle and during her marriage, took away from the poignancy of her story with Ryle. Hoover’s decision to oscillate between scenes in which Ryle and Lily develop their relationship (both positively and negatively) and scenes of Lily thinking about Atlas and being confused by her lingering emotions for him frustrated me on many levels. I felt that the storyline with Atlas took away from the gravity of Lily’s situation with Ryle in that it drew attention away from the severity of what she was going through. It almost trivialized how difficult her life became after Ryle’s most horrible incident of domestic abuse because Lily’s admission that she wished she could easily feel something for Atlas without so much stress and trauma and confusion surrounding her brought the story back into a traditionally romantic domain that I wished it would severe all ties with. It just overall toyed with my emotions in that I was feeling hurt and scared for Lily but then hopeful that her and Atlas would “get together” in the traditional sense – it didn’t feel right to have these thoughts, which is thankfully something that Lily recognizes as well, but I found myself wishing that Atlas wasn’t even part of the equation. I ironically struggled more with the romantic moments of It Ends With Us than with the powerful moments because I grew to accept that it was not a generic romance novel and so it frustrated me to be offered tokens of romance novel stereotypes amidst such deep and meaningful subject matter. I don’t know if any of that made sense, but I feel that if It Ends With Us began and ended only with investigating Lily’s relationship with Ryle, it would’ve felt slightly less disjointed and would’ve made me feel more consistently emotional and heartbroken.

I’ll repeat, though, that It Ends With Us is still extremely poignant and important in that it is NOT just a romance novel. It is so much more and it is a book that I would undoubtedly recommend to women, and encourage them to pass on to their mothers, their daughters, and their friends.

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

*One more note… I went for a run partway through reading It Ends With Us, and a song came on my iPod that made me think of Lily. It was the song “Night So Long” by the band Haim from their newest album Something To Tell You – the deep and powerful instrumentals and the haunting harmonies made me picture Lily taking a walk in the dark, contemplating her emotions and her future. The lyrics also seemed to resonate with her experiences in the novel, so I thought I would share a few here…

“In loneliness, my only friend

In loneliness, my only fear

The nights end

Then I say goodbye to love once more

No shadow darkening the door

Until your memory is gone

The night, slow, long…”

~ “Night So Long”, Haim

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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