The Truth Behind the "It Ends with Us" Controversy
Desiree Worrall-BelangerFeb 6 2023
Labeled as a Booktok sensation, "It Ends with Us" gained immense popularity thanks to the bookish side of TikTok in 2021, which led to Colleen Hoover’s quickly-rising fame. The book currently has more than 700 reviews on Fable, and is one being read by 200 book clubs on our platform!
Based on Colleen’s mother’s own experience with domestic abuse, "It Ends with Us" is the story of how Lily, like her own mother before her, falls in love with an abusive man. The reader will follow Lily’s story, often switching perspectives from her childhood to adulthood, and how she will make her way out of this toxic relationship. "When I decided I wanted to write this story, I first asked my mother for permission," Hoover writes in her personal note at the conclusion of "It Ends with Us," explaining how her mother's experiences influenced this book. "I told her I wanted to write it for women like her. I also wanted to write it for all the people who didn’t quite understand women like her."
"I fashioned Lily after my mother in many ways. They are both caring, intelligent, strong women who simply fell in love with men who didn’t deserve to fall in love at all."- Colleen Hoover
While the book also focuses on the childhood love story of Lily and Atlas, "It Ends with Us" is not a romance novel, nor should it be read as one. Unfortunately, the book has often been marketed and promoted as a love story or romance novel, and will often be found in the romance section of bookstores. This inevitably leads to misconceptions about the book, which in turn could easily affect the readers' opinion of the story, as well as their general opinion of the novel itself. The fact that a story about domestic abuse has repetitively been promoted as a love story - whether this is a love story with the “broken” Ryle Kincaid, or the “dreamy book-boyfriend” Atlas Corrigan - has inescapably participated in the downfall of "It Ends with Us" fame.
Is It Ends with Us sad?
As with all books, whether it is sad or not will mostly depend on the reader’s interpretation. For one person, this book could be absolutely heartbreaking, while for another it could evoke anger rather than sadness. Without question, domestic abuse (whether verbal, physical, or both) is not a light topic. Each reader will react differently to such subjects, some sharing similar opinions and reactions while others will have a completely different experience. Lily’s story itself is incredibly heartbreaking; however, has the writing and execution of this “fictional” story harmed the important message that should have been transmitted to the readers? This is where issues of the book and author being “problematic” come into question, especially in the ways in which social media impacts their reputation.
Is It Ends with Us Problematic?
Colleen Hoover has found millions of fans on BookTok and other platforms, but social media can be a double-edged sword. With the ever-growing influence of social media, many authors and their works have been called out as being “problematic” - "It Ends with Us," albeit having gained its fame from Booktok, was not spared. Around the end of 2022, a significant amount of negative attention was brought upon both the author and her work, predominantly focused on "It Ends with Us." That being said, is the book itself problematic? We often struggle to separate the author from the work” in situations like this one. Yet, how can one truly separate the author from their work if the work in question could never have been brought to fruition were it not for the author’s own experiences?One of the primary reasons why "It Ends with Us" has been labeled as “problematic” by readers is the accusation that it romanticizes domestic abuse.Before going further into this claim, it is important to fully understand the meaning of “romanticizing” something. Many of us will use this term, whether it be when we talk about a book or a new year’s resolution of “romanticizing our life” to get us more motivated. To “romanticize” something usually entails making this something “seem better or more appealing than it really is.” With this knowledge, one could easily agree that Hoover romanticized the toxic relationship between Lily and Ryle. After the first incident, which Lily clearly acknowledges as wrong and dangerous, she nonetheless declares her love for Ryle - thus embellishing a toxic relationship; romanticizing something to make it seem more appealing. Looking at it this way, one could argue that Colleen Hoover made a terrible mistake by writing such a story - by romanticizing an abusive relationship. It would be wrong to compare a real-life abuse story where one party did not leave because they were in physical danger to that of Lily and Ryle’s. Lily, being fully aware of the danger she was in by staying with Ryle, still made the decision to stay with him because she loved him. This could be seen as the heart of the “problematic” issue with "It Ends with Us," although I am sure there are many more aspects of the book that have been argued over in the last few months. While Colleen did provide a somewhat “realistic” ending to Lily and Ryle’s relationship by the end of the novel, Lily’s decisions remain questionable. Why would Lily make the decision to divorce an abusive man in order to save herself, yet allow him to remain in the life of their daughter? Why would she give the man who physically, and emotionally/mentally, abused her time and time again the chance to fall back into those habits - whether it be with Lily or their daughter?
#Spicytok and "It Ends with Us"
The promotion and marketing of "It Ends with Us" become more important when we see that a book about domestic abuse is now appearing on social media under the hashtag #spicytok, and even appearing in the #spicytok sections in bookstores. "When "It Ends with Us" began to gain attention on social media, creators and booksellers began promoting the book for its romantic aspects. Whether it was Atlas being protective, Ryle being romantic - or Ryle being the “broken and morally gray character” - social media made "It Ends with Us" into something else entirely. Yes, it is entirely true that the book includes romance, sexual content, and - if domestic abuse had been taken out of the context - some universal “swoon-worthy” scenes. But that is the thing, domestic abuse is most of, if not entirely, the plot of this book. To have bookstores such as Indigo or Barnes & Noble promoting it as a romance novel, or to have social media classify it as a “spicy book” inevitably led to significant miscommunication amongst the reader community. Literature is powerful. Words are powerful. They have the ability to make us feel a million different ways, to realize things about ourselves, and to change our mindsets. When we read a work of fiction, we know that it is “made up.” We can allow ourselves to learn from the characters, but we still maintain our own judgment. To have this power - the power of giving strength to a reader, or to help them discover new things about themselves, should never be taken for granted. Furthermore, publishers, reviewers, and the world of marketing all play a significant role in how a book will be perceived. Putting a book about domestic abuse in the #spicytok section is abominable. Not only is it entirely inappropriate, but it promotes the wrong elements of the book, misguides readers, and - as we’ve observed on social media - will have a huge impact on how the book is read. "It Ends with Us" never was, and never will be, a “romance” or “spicy” book.
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Desiree Worrall-Belanger is a Canadian bookish influencer known under the username @rainydayslibrary. Having been annotating for multiple years, Desiree shares her tips and tricks on her platforms - one of the primary focuses on her social media accounts as of late 2021. Pursuing an honors in English and a minor in Visual and Material Culture studies at Mount Allison University, Desiree is devoted to the world of words. If you’re trying to reach her and she doesn’t answer, odds are she’s at the bookstore, or perhaps she’s practicing some of her favorite hobbies such as reading, listening to music, and crocheting.