This is the first book I’ve read by Colleen Hoover. I picked it up spontaneously. I saw the audiobook on Overdrive and remembered a friend talking about it, so I downloaded it then and there. In order to get a good idea of what Hoover’s books are really like, I don’t believe this is the best one to start with. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just that this book comes from a much deeper, much more personal place for Hoover. In the afterward, she details how she grew up watching her mother suffer the abuses of her father. This novel was, in a way, Hoover’s way of working through the complex web of emotions surrounding her childhood and her relationships with her parents.
Lily Blossom Bloom (no, I’m not kidding) has just about everything she could ever want. She’s an independent entrepreneur with a fledgling business (flower shop… nope, still not kidding) that’s proving to be quite successful, she has a great new best friend, and she’s dating an incredibly sexy and successful neurosurgeon who seems positively smitten with her. As is often the case, however, things are not always as they seem from the outside. The handsome and charming Ryle has a dark side, and Lily will be further tested with the return of her first love, Atlas Corrigan.
If there’s one thing Colleen Hoover does well, it’s build and keep suspense. She’s gifted in a certain regard, in that her books are intensely readable. So readable, in fact, you really don’t want to stop reading. Despite whatever faults her books may have, you simply can’t put them down. As far as character, I did like Lily. I couldn’t really identify with her much, but I found her charming and likable. I enjoyed the little tidbits of the past we got through Lily’s journal, which she adorably penned to Ellen Degeneres, which was a nice touch. She wrote to Ellen instead of herself, as her favorite thing to do when she was younger was to watch the Ellen show. As an adult, Lily rereads her journal and revisits the moments she first met and fell in love with Atlas, including the tragic and awful events that caused the demise of their relationship.
This will sound strange, but the one character I had issue with was Ryle. I know, I’m supposed to have an issue with Ryle. It’s complicated. First of all, I feel like I was supposed to like him at first, but I was initially put off. Where some people saw him as initially charming, I saw him as way too assertive and almost sleezy. My spidey senses were immediately tingling and I was mentally begging Lily to run in the opposite direction. Sure, he was intriguing, but I didn’t understand how Lily could have fallen for him at all. Therefore, I couldn’t understand the intensity of her feelings for him later in the novel when she’s desperately holding on despite all the new information she’s gleaned. All that being said, I do understand that’s sort of the point. Let me explain.
Hoover’s entire point with this novel is to enter the mind of an abused spouse. Most of us on the outside looking in to a relationship like this can’t understand why the person stays. It’s completely unfathomable for most of us to allow someone to treat us that way, but it’s so much more complicated than we could ever fathom. This novel is her exploration of that relationship dynamic. I do believe it’s effective, though I still can’t understand Lily’s initial attraction to Ryle beyond the physical. Her relationship with Atlas was much more easy to grasp. If anything, Atlas was a little too perfect. He needed a flaw of some sort. Honestly, he didn’t seem human.
There are ways I can identify with Ryle’s story. His backstory is so heartbreaking and tragic and, while it doesn’t excuse his behavior at all, it does provide a little context for the mental and emotional turmoil he faces which lead him to act the way he does. But here’s the thing. How does no one in this book think to encourage him to seek mental and emotional help? Full disclosure, in my own relationship, I recognize aspects of Ryle. My own husband deals with anger issues, though they don’t manifest in the same way. He never has physically harmed me or my children. If he had, I wouldn’t still live in the same home. But he does struggle with anger and intense frustration, and all of it goes back to his constant struggles going back to childhood, and the same can be said of Ryle. Alcohol seems to be a trigger for both men, lifting the restraints on their anger and unleashing something they no longer can control. This is the reason I’ve always had an issue with my husband drinking. He’s not the kind of person who should ever lose control. That and his family’s propensity toward truly toxic alcoholism. Drinking is a very slippery slope for them, so it should honestly be avoided completely.
Considering all of this, this book became pretty profound for me. I can understand Lily making excuses for her husband. Though not as severe, I have literally done the exact same kind of rationalization. I have conveniently changed stories, lied about how something got broken or damaged, because I didn’t want anyone to know what had really happened. They would judge him. They would judge me for putting up with it. C’est la vie. This book gave me a lot to think about, to be honest.
Totally shifting gears to something a bit lighter, I’m probably going to profess a pretty unpopular opinion here. The sex got annoying. Yeah, I know… go ahead and laugh. I am not one to shy away from eroticism and when used effectively, it can be nice. I just felt like it was a bit much in this book. Sometimes it overpowered the narrative, and I felt like sex was really the only tie between Lily and Ryle. They didn’t seem to have much else besides a truly explosive love life. Like rabbits, really. Ryle had a propensity toward getting a bit… well, riled… in more ways than one.
Overall, I felt this was a very readable book with a very important message. There were some petty annoyances. The odd naming conventions, for one, and Hoover’s habit of over-doing certain things. In addition to the sex, I got really tired of hearing about how rich Ryle’s sister and her husband were. Seriously, I get it. They have money. In the grand scheme of things, I’m inclined to give this one a 3.