The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.
Colleen Hoover first came onto the writing scene in 2012 with her self-published book Slammed. What began as a hobby with no intention to be become a published author has since turned into 22 novels and novellas. With the surge of Hoover’s books being recommend through BookTok, her sales have broken. Before the release of It Starts With Us on Oct. 18, Hoover had sold 7.3 million print copies of her books. Not only that, but five novels have sat on New York Time’s Bestseller list so far in 2022 according to NPD Group.
It Starts With Us serves as a sequel to Hoover’s 2016 hit It Ends With Us. It is this particular book that BookTok has latched onto. The marketing of the novel as a romance only to pull the rug out from under unsuspecting readers has created a mass appeal to the audience. This appeal transitioned easily into the latest installation of Lily and Atlas’ story of navigating life after trauma, unresolved feelings, and a messy divorce.
BookTok needs to BookStop
This book is complete and utter fan service. An addition to a novel that should have been a standalone, but readers on TikTok just could not stand for it. That much is made obvious by Hoover’s thank-you note in the acknowledgement (she mentions the petition started for the creation of this book). It’s obvious that Hoover did not put as much heart into the creation of this novel as she did It Ends With Us, which makes sense. It Ends With Us was semi-autobiographical; the abusive situations and emotions associated with them are closely tied with Hoover's experiences with her mother. So, not only was the heavy plot realistically presented, but there was also a level of care put into it. It Starts With Us doesn’t carry those same aspects. Even with a continuation of interactions with Ryle and a life after an abusive relationship, Hoover’s writing feels like nothing more than a poor imitation of the novel that ensured her rise to fame. Granted, the tones are different – It Starts With Us holds more fluff and romance than It Ends With Us, which Hoover continuously struggled to write. My main gripe with BookTok hyping up a book is how they promote the kinds of reads that are poorly written and easily digestible. Hoover’s creation is mainly filled with old letters from It Ends With Us. There’s hardly any new writing and what is included is a step back from its predecessor. Honestly, the constant stream of letters stuffed between the pages of this book instead of Hoover creating dialogue between the characters is annoying. She can’t create realistic character interactions. It feels as though she was trying to extend her word count. This book could have, and should have been, a novella. It would suit her tumblresque style of telling instead of showing, which there is no shortage of. Lily’s entire inner mantra is the same thing over and over again, to the point you could skim all her lines because they don’t add anything to the plot.
Atlas can’t handle the weight
I understand why Ryle was still in the novel. It’s Hoover use of the entirety of It Starts With Us to cast Ryle as a villain and build up the rest of being better than him that I can’t understand, mainly because none of the other characters are good. Ryle is the only character with depth – correction: Ryle and the two 12-year-olds, Josh and Theo, are the only characters with any depth to them. Lily, Atlas, and virtually everyone else in the novel are flat. Atlas is praised for being the ‘perfect man’ because he would never hit a woman, but he spends 90% of his chapters talking about how he wants to bash Ryle’s face in. Understandable to a certain extent, but why can Hoover only write male love interests rooted in violent thoughts and tendencies as ‘proof’ of their love? Atlas’ main trait is his infatuation with Lily, which I cannot begin to comprehend.
Lily is boring. Horrible to say after all she’s gone through, but half of her personality in this book comes from passages grabbed from It Ends With Us and the other half is her swooning over Atlas in bare-bone explanations. They don’t feel realistic. Josh and Theo, on the other hand, are witty, moody, and immature – everything a 12-year-old is expected to be. Theo calls Atlas out for his corny (and extremely hard to read without getting secondhand embarrassment) lines he uses to woo Lily. Josh, who serves as a side story to add depth to Atlas (which clearly doesn’t work), is a refreshing addition to a stale list of characters. There isn’t the same intrigue to the main cast that there had been in It Ends With Us, which is truly disappointing, because if you can’t enjoy the lack of plot and you can’t enjoy the bland characters then there isn’t much about It Starts With Us to enjoy.
Yes girl, give us nothing!!
Hoover’s biggest issue is that she can’t write romance. Her novels span a variety of genres, from supernatural thrillers to YA to fiction to paranormal romance, most of which she should stick to. Out of all the romance based novels I’ve read by Hoover, many are her least exciting works. It Starts With Us holds no substance – not when you take out the moments of It Ends With Us that desperately support it. Lily and Atlas’ story certainly holds a critical aspect of romance novels: the desire to feel love. Where it falls short is the necessity of such love. The story starts as It Ends With Us ends. Lily is doing fine without anyone in her life. She’s the same Lily, just as a single mother and she’s killing it. Her interactions with Atlas rely too heavily on the past. Their future, their values, and their passions do not grow and develop. All Your Perfects, another romance novel by Hoover, works a bit better because the love feels necessary throughout the novel – the characters aren't whole without it. However, Atlas and Lily have established themselves as capable of existing without the other’s love for the extent of an entire novel, so when they finally do have the chance to be with one another, their romance is underwhelming. It doesn’t hold the hallmarks of past romance novels and there is no real threat to their love. There is nothing to force them to grow together or truly fear that they’ll be thrown apart. So much of what Hoover writes feels unnecessary, as it does with many of her romance novels.
Should have stayed in the drafts
It Starts With Us was doomed to fail from the start. Following It Ends With Us after the somewhat well-deserved hype it received from TikTok is not easy to do. This is proven by this poor excuse of an extended epilogue, which, at its core, is all It Starts With Us is: lackluster romance that stretches too thin to give substance to the novel because it’s not meant to fill more than a novella. Beloved characters (and hated ones) have lost all that has made them famous in a novel that the author never intended on finishing. It should have stayed ambiguous. At least then the story readers could create in their mind has the possibility of being interesting with more substance than It Starts With Us ended up being.
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