CW: this post will discuss domestic violence
*Spoilers ahead for It Ends With Us by: Colleen Hoover*
I decided to format my review of It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover into more of a discussion post, rather than a strict review. This is because I had a lot of opinions on this book, many of which are probably going to become very rambly, and I thought that I could turn this review into a conversation about the representation of domestic abuse in novels and how we can perceive them. That being said, because this post will go into lengthy discussion about a book that depicts domestic abuse, I would ask that you proceed with caution. For resources, visit
https://sheltersafe.ca/ (Find a Canadian women's shelter near you if you're in danger).
https://nationalactionplan.ca/ (National Action Plan on Gendered Violence in Canada).
https://www.thehotline.org/ (US-based Domestic Violence Helpline).
It Ends With Us was recommended to me by my close cousin, though she warned that it is a difficult read. I don't know much about Colleen Hoover, however I do know that she has had some problematic controversy in the passed, especially pertaining to her lack of trigger warnings in her books that deal with abuse. I felt comfortable reading this book as it was borrowed and therefore I wasn't giving any extra money to Hoover, but I would overall say to not support this author by purchasing her books directly, as I do think she could do greater work to protect her readers through trigger warnings. If you are interested in this book, consider buying second-hand or borrowing.
It Ends With Us is about a woman named Lily who moves to Boston for a fresh start. She opens up a flower shop and aims to make a life for herself after the death of her father, who physically abused her mother. Soon after moving to Boston, Lily meets Ryle, a stoic and stubborn brain surgeon who is taken with Lily and aims to start a relationship. However, this relationship quickly turns abusive, and Lily is suddenly faced with the realization that she is exactly where her mother was.
It is apparent to the reader from the very beginning that Ryle will become physically and emotionally abusive towards Lily. Even in the first moments he meets her, he is patronizing, creepy and obsessive. However, Lily feels comfortable to enter a relationship and she does begin to excuse his behaviour under his false promises that "it'll never happen again." Lily's situation is unfortunately all too common for many people in abusive relationships. Their partners appear charismatic, and their obsession with their victims disguised by romantic gestures and empty promises. When I first began the book, I felt frustrated with Lily because I thought she was naïve that she couldn't see what I saw. The signs were all there, and yet she excused them. However, I quickly realized that my negative opinions towards Lily were because I've never, thankfully been in an abusive relationship before, and so I felt I would have reacted differently. However, I've never been in that situation before, and we can never tell victims how they should've acted, as they were in extremely hard situations that they never considered they would be in. What's in the past is done, and all we can do is support victims in the present.
Lily states on multiple occasions that she never thought she would be in the same situation as her mother, and that even she judged victims of domestic abuse. She says that she wonders how they could stay with their abusers, and she is shocked that she ends up the same way. However, she comes to the realization that she has fallen in love with her abuser, because of the good times that they had together. When Lily stated that she had fallen in love with Ryle, I at first was a bit shocked, but then I realized where she was coming from. Ryle was the first person she met when she was in Boston, and he came into her life at a very difficult time. I cannot possibly judge her for the love she has for him, because she fell in love while she was extremely vulnerable.
There is a scene in the book in which Alyssa, Ryle's sister, tells Lily that as Ryle's sister, she wants Lily to give him another chance at redemption, but as Lily's best friend, she needs Lily to get out of that relationship as soon as possible, or Alyssa will never speak to Lily again. I found this scene to be very powerful, as it shows how hard it is for Alyssa to process that her brother is an abuser. She wants to still love her brother, but she loves Lily's safety even more. I found this scene to be an interesting exploration on how family members of abusers process their feelings, and I wondered how I'd react in the same situation.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Lily and Ryle eventually get married, and Lily discovers she is pregnant. She first considers never telling Ryle of her pregnancy, but she eventually decides to let him be a part of the baby's life, with a firm warning that if he lays a hand on their child, Lily will leave. Ryle is surprisingly a caring father, and is even in the delivery room with Lily when she gives birth. I found this sequence of events to be the most conflicting for me. At first I was hoping and rooting for Lily to run away and never let Ryle know of his daughter. But, her decision comes after she considers that her child needs two parents and that Ryle actually wants to be a father. They do split up and share custody of their daughter, and Lily whispers to her daughter that the cycle of abuse "ends with us." I thought that the book ended on both a bleak and hopeful note. I just wished that Ryle got what he deserved, that he never knew happiness again. But, Lily chooses a different path. She doesn't forgive Ryle for what he did to her, but she gives him the chance to be there for her daughter. I thought this was a very strong and difficult decision for her, but it was ultimately one that I respected, as Lily looks towards restorative justice and for Ryle to see how to properly raise a child.
I say my opinions on this book were conflicted because at points I was so frustrated with the characters. I was so angry with Ryle for continuing to abuse his power and breaking his promises, and even times I was frustrated with Lily for giving him second chances and even for telling him of the pregnancy. However, the author's note at the end of the novel helped me to reconcile some of these opinions. Hoover notes that her father was abusive to her mother, however he was always kind to her and he saw the errors of his ways right up until his death. She even thanks her father at the end of the novel for recognizing the harm that he caused. I realized that this book was an accurate representation, but not the only representation of what domestic abuse can look like. Some may choose a different path, but Lily chose a path similar to that of Hoover's own family, and she does still end up free and safe. I learned by the end of this book that healing from an abusive family looks different for everyone, and because of this, nobody can judge the choices made by the victims. Overall, I am thankful to this book for teaching me about one of the ways in which domestic abuse manifests itself, and one of the ways in which victims can heal from it. I only hope that this cycle doesn't continue.
Have you read It Ends With Us? What did you think?
Emily @ Paperback Princess