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It Ends With Us and It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover

Although I have wanted to review ‘It Ends With Us’ and ‘It Starts With Us’ separately, I honestly don’t feel like I can. The two stories blend so well together and I am struggling to differentiate between the two books and remember which parts come from which book because I literally devoured them both within a week. So, I’m sorry if you haven’t read ‘It Starts With Us’ yet – there will be spoilers ahead for it. I didn’t actually realise ‘It Starts With Us’ was a relatively new release as it seems to still only be available in hardback – so I’m actually glad it took me so long to read ‘It Ends With Us’ – how would I have coped finishing that without being able to immediately pick up the sequel to follow Lily and Atlas’s budding romance.

‘It Ends With Us’ opens to Lily’s first accidental encounter with Ryle Kincaid – a successful neurosurgeon in training that she immediately desires – even though the first thing she sees is him pummelling a garden chair. He’s charming, charismatic and attractive – all things she has been looking for. At first, the reader enjoys watching their new romance unfold and want to see it work out – even though Ryle ‘doesn’t do girlfriends’. However, we soon come to realise that there is probably a reason why Ryle does not and should not ‘do girlfriends’.

We are soon introduced to Atlas Corrigan through Lily’s ‘Dear Ellen’ diaries that she found from her teenage years. Atlas was a homeless boy that squatted in the abandoned house behind Lily’s home. He went to the same school as her and she looked after him by giving him food, letting him use her shower after school, giving him clothes and eventually allowing him to sleep on her bedroom floor. Their romance is a soft and sweet one – the beauty of teenage love but between two souls much older than their actual age. Lily lives in a household where her father abuses her mother and Atlas has been neglected and cast aside by his own mother and abused by his step-father. Two teenagers that have lived too much pain collide and of course, fall deeply in love with each other. Their love is not meant to be though and Atlas ends up leaving to move to Boston, the city Lily currently lives in.

As Lily's relationships with these two men evolve throughout the novel, Colleen Hoover delves into some complicated themes around love, trust, and forgiveness. After Lily and Ryle have been in love for a while, we see him reveal his violent streak that he has been managing to hide from her for a long time. “Fifteen seconds. That's all it takes to completely change everything about a person. Fifteen.” Ryle ends up becoming just like Lily’s father – abusive, manipulative and a gaslighter. Lily realises that, after he hurts her and after she forgives him, he inevitably hurts her again. She sees that she is just like her mother – scared to leave an abusive situation. Her commentary about how her opinion changes of her mother is a really powerful way to look at victims of abuse. Lily always saw her mother as weak for not leaving her father. But why does Lily find herself not being able to leave Ryle now? Because she still loves him: “Just because someone hurts you doesn't mean you can simply stop loving them.” Lily realises how her mother must have felt, but she also made herself a promise to never allow someone to treat her the same way her father treated her mother – a promise she does eventually keep.

It's so hard to watch a character you have formed a connection with make choices that you would hope you wouldn’t do yourself. But Hoover brings into question how people in abusive relationships get trapped in these situations – even when they know how damaging it can be. Lily’s parents’ relationship became one that she despised – she despised her father for hurting her mother and she despised her mother for not leaving. She said to herself that she would never allow someone to do that to her – but when it happens? You love someone, and you trust and believe them when they say they won’t do it again and that it was a mistake.

When we read the sections of the book focused on Ryle (especially before he first hurts her), we really root for their relationship and are excited by their new love. However, you cannot help but to wish for Lily to find Atlas when we read her ‘Dear Ellen’ diary entries. He is so sweet and kind and empathetic that you yearn for them to have been together since their youth. We hope that, once they meet again partway through the book, that Lily can find herself being with Atlas instead of Ryle. From her teenage diaries, we know that Atlas would never do what Ryle does to Lily, and we want for her to be able to be with him instead.

When Lily sees Atlas at a restaurant just after Ryle first hurts her, we see how Atlas has never changed. He locks himself in the bathroom with Lily to confront her about her injury and immediately wants to protect her; save her from whoever caused her this pain. The way Hoover makes us fall in love with Ryle, fall in love with Atlas, fall out of love with Ryle and fall even more in love with Atlas is such a rollercoaster that we end up in knots, not understanding how to feel. It really reflects Lily’s own emotions and we understand the turmoil this situation puts her through.

As we travel through the novel, we see Ryle become more and more violent, even after their whirlwind wedding, and Lily eventually realises enough is enough and contacts Atlas to help her. Ryle needs to leave for England for a few months for his career and Lily has the time to heal and decide about her relationship with him. In the end, she decides that her and Ryle need to be apart. However, when Lily finds out that she is pregnant, she understands that her and Ryle will now be connected together, whether she likes it or not. Ryle wants to make things work. He still loves Lily and wants to be a father to their daughter. Even whilst knowing how horrific Ryle could be, I still felt myself wanting things to work out for them at times. However, after her daughter Emmy is born, Lily knows what she has to do. When she is alone looking at her child, Lily narrates:

“Cycles exist because they are excruciating to break. It takes an astronomical amount of pain and courage to disrupt a familiar pattern. Sometimes it seems easier to just keep running in the same familiar circles, rather than facing the fear of jumping and possibly not landing on your feet. My mother went through it. I went through it. I'll be damned if I allow my daughter to go through it. I kiss her on the forehead and make her a promise. "It stops here. With me and you. It ends with us.”

She knows that she must leave Ryle. If she does not, she faces the possibility that her own daughter will end up in the same cycle as her mother and then herself. She acknowledges that she must be strong to protect her daughter, something her mother was not strong enough to do for her. She wants Emmy to have a positive relationship with her father, one she will not be able to have if she witnesses him hurting her mother. How can Lily know for sure he wouldn’t end up hurting Emmy too?

It is such a sad ending and, although you end up hating most parts of Ryle, you still don’t want to see a family broken apart before a child is even a few hours old. But, we also know that Lily is making the right decision. She must leave Ryle and she must protect herself and her daughter and we are so proud of her for doing that.

‘It Ends With Us’ closes with Lily and Ryle working their way through a co-parenting situation. She has become stronger and is ready to start a new and more positive journey in her life. The final few pages end with her accidentally running into Atlas and I just had to get my hands on ‘It Starts With Us’ straight away so I could continue their new love story.

Atlas Corrigan is simply the perfect man. He’s kind and gentle, knows Lily inside and out, is passionate about his business and strives to be everything Lily needs and deserves. He defended and protected her when she needed it against her father in their teens and then again against Ryle when they weren’t even in regular communication. He becomes her saviour without the arrogance and self-righteousness of someone who does things for their own gain, rather than simply wanting to help. He is selfless and sensitive – who doesn’t want that in a man?

However, in ‘It Starts With Us’, Lily still has to manoeuvre through her new blossoming relationship with Atlas, whilst also thinking about how her manipulative and abusive ex-husband will handle her becoming close with, not only another man, but the very man he became jealous and obsessive over. What is so sad about Ryle’s behaviour is that it is all caused by his own issues and his lack of trust with Lily. Lily never pursued Atlas, never once messaged him or called him. He turned up to give her some lunch and give her his phone number, should she ever need it, but she never uses it until she needs to. Ryle had no reason to worry or be jealous or angry at Lily, nothing she did was wrong. Blaming her for even having a tattoo that reminds her of her first love that she got BEFORE she even knew him? How can he not see how awful his behaviour is?

It happens so often – someone who clearly needs to go to therapy to sort out what happens inside their own head fails to do so and, in turn, ruins someone else’s head at the same time. How is that fair? Colleen Hoover really highlights the need for taking a step back from something, taking accountability for your own actions and realising that you may be the problem. Anyone and everyone can have trauma – hell, I can’t imagine there is anyone that doesn’t. But before we damage anyone else with our trauma, we have to try to fix it, not cause someone else pain just because we are in pain.

In the end, Ryle only takes responsibility for his own behaviour when it comes from his sister and his best friend. He does not accept it when it comes from Lily as he truly believes it is all her fault; she causes all of their issues and she should be blamed for him not being able to control his anger. When Lily, Alyssa and Marshall confront Ryle, Lily narrates “Ryle loves and respects his sister, so he eventually returns to his seat, despite his current anger.” What is so sad about this line from Lily is that she is fully aware that Ryle does not love and respect her; maybe he never did as he hurt her so many times – something he would never do with Alyssa. She accepts this and knows that she would never have got this effort from him if she did not have Alyssa and Marshall on her side. Not many are lucky enough to have their abuser’s family on their side, and Hoover carefully emphasises the need to listen to and support victims.

Colleen Hoover’s ‘It Ends With Us’ and ‘It Starts With Us’ are two powerful and moving novels that tackle very tough topics. However, through the carefully crafted characters and events that run through the stories, we can see hope for victims of domestic abuse. I think the above quote really emphasises how I would say most people think about victims and abusers. Although not always, women make up the majority of cases of domestic violence and abuse and we do, as a society, seem to wrongly place blame on them rather than on the person committing these awful acts. I do believe that the archaic patriarchal system that is in place hides the man from blame and points it at the women. And even when it is the other way around and a woman is the abuser, the same patriarchal system makes men believe that they are weak and pathetic that it happens to them and are even less likely to seek or be able to access help if they try.

Although not written in the style of Shakespeare or Brontë or Chaucer, I believe ‘It Ends With Us’ and ‘It Starts With Us’ teaches us some valuable lessons about the current society that we live in and how we look after and protect each other whilst also holding people accountable for their actions.

I would 100% recommend these two books to anyone! I can certainly see myself reading these again and again in the future.



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