It’s taken me a while to process this book and write this review. If you would rather not be spoiled, or if you are sensitive to content that can be triggering in books, please don’t read this unless you want to.
A couple of weeks ago I received the new and very much-anticipated, novel from Colleen Hoover. Before I received my copy, I heard a few blurbs here and there concerning the subject matter of the story and I admit I had my reservations. This book is so heartbreakingly good and beautiful and disheartening all at once. There were a few times I needed to take a break and walk away from the book, despite finishing it in only two days.
I just want to say this: I have, nor could I ever imagine or hope to be in the same situation that the main character, Lilly, or her mother, are in. That being said, I know that if you are reading this review and if you have read this story, if you resonate with this story in ways I cannot and if you’ve ever been in a situation this heartbreaking, please know that I do not know what that’s like. And therefore, I cannot put into words exactly how hard a situation like this is.
This is a story about love and the forefront. It’s also a story about hurt that is both mental and physical. It’s also a story about second chances and new life.
When we first meet our main character, Lilly, she is on the roof of a building in Boston. She just had to give the eulogy for her dead, abusive father. She is thinking about killing herself. About jumping off. She doesn’t, because she knows her strengths. She also knows her weaknesses. One weakness, she finds, comes in the form of a voice. A voice belonging to a tall, dark, and handsome neurosurgeon, who joins her on the same roof.
His name is Ryle. Ryle, Lily comes to find, is sweet, charming, and successful. Ryle lets Lily know when they first meet that he doesn’t do relationships, they just never worked out for him. Lily is the one to change this.
They go on a few dates and hit it off very well. When Lily’s mother comes to Boston for a visit, Ryle insists on meeting her, something Lily takes as a good sign. They decide to have lunch at the hottest restaurant in town. It’s at this restaurant that Lily runs into someone from her past. His name is Atlas. Atlas is the once homeless teen Lily helped and took in when they were teenagers. He is also the first boy Lily loved. The novel goes back and forth from the past to the present. Atlas recognizes Lily at once and when he comes to take their orders. Lily is struck with flooded memories from their past. Little does she know that what Lily did for Atlas will come back to her.
Told in the form on journal entry-like letters to a celebrity Lily credits for helping her keep her sanity amongst her father’s abusive moments growing up. Who ever knew a daytime talk show celebrity could be the glue that helps to bind Lily and Atlas together?
Lily and Ryle see more of each other. Lily finds herself falling in love with Ryle. Ryle is sweet, charming, spontaneous, and tender. Ryle is also jealous, angry, and abusive. Lily knows she can’t be like her mother, but it’s Ryle’s begging for forgiveness and incessant declarations of “I’m so, so sorry!” and “Never again Lily, never again.” that keeps Lily from leaving Ryle for good. She also doesn’t want to admit that it’s harder to leave someone who is different in your mind than who they are right in front of you. It’s easier to say you’re going to up and leave an abusive person than it is to physically leave them, removing them from your heart once and for all.
Lily comes to find out that a relationship with Ryle is not all flowers and flirtation. Heated moments both passionate and angry lead Lily to a crossroads of questions. Lily must decide if it’s truly worth it to find the good in everyone, despite their demons. If it’s wise to accept forgiveness, or let go and realize that you can’t change anyone or their actions. Does she let go of her Atlas-filled past once and for all? Or jump headfirst into the future, a future with Ryle, whose demons seep out little by little the longer they stay together and see each other’s true selves?
This was 5/5 stars for me. This novel was an eye-opening account of abuse in a relationship. It taught me that when you see or know someone in an abusive situation, your words to them need to be chosen very carefully. It’s important to know when your boundaries are within that. It’s easier for the person on the outside looking in to a situation like that to simply say, “Well, why don’t you just leave them?” It’s not that easy, and it only gets harder from there on out. Colleen Hoover is no stranger to writing heavy subjects in her novels, but it was the fact that she had her own personal experience with abuse that made this novel even more difficult to read. After growing up and seeing the abuse of her mother by her father, firsthand, she drew a lot of those personal and difficult memories into this novel. This is an important novel to read. Especially if you don’t have a personal history with abuse.
This novel does have a lot of light moments as well. It balanced out the heaviness within the core subject. The parts that went back to Lily’s past were my favorite. I loved getting to know Atlas. I do wish Atlas had been featured more, especially in the parts that took place in the present, but at the heart of it, the present was focused more on Lily and Ryle ‘s relationship.
I do have to say, I didn’t really like Ryle from the beginning. He just seemed douche-y from the moment I met him. He had his moments, but his character filled me with such an uneasiness, it wasn’t difficult for me to believe who he really was when things between him and Lily started falling apart.