There are two camps when it comes to Colleen Hoover's books: Team CoHo and Team WTH (why the hype?). Until very recently, I was solidly Team WTH. I'd read HOPELESS, the book that made Hoover a big-name hit, and was horrified by how bad I found it. I also tried reading one of her more recent works, NOVEMBER 9, and was so disgusted by both characters that I ended up slogging miserably through all 310 pages of it.
You're probably asking yourself, "If you hate her books so much, why read them?" The answer is that I like to give authors multiple chances before giving up on them completely. Some are just lost causes for me: for whatever reason, their plots and writing styles are totally incompatible with my preferences. But Hoover had versatility going with her. Yes, I hated both books that I read, but for different reasons: they were both written very differently, about different subjects, with very different writing styles.
My hope was that, eventually, Hoover would write a book that would work for me.
Ironically, the first book of hers that I ever liked was totally free to read. Hoover published TOO LATE on Wattpad for readers to enjoy without paying a dime. Skeptically, I began reading the book, fully expecting the worst. Instead, I found myself hopping aboard a speeding train filled with drama, abuse, angst, sex, drugs, and violence. Normally, I take what her hardcore fans say with a grain of salt, but this time, they were 100% correct: this book wasn't like anything she had ever written before. It was dark, unpleasant, gritty. The Queen of Fluff had decided to don studs and a mohawk.
When her fans then began saying that IT ENDS WITH US was the same - also dark, also unpleasant, and also completely unlike anything she'd ever written - I decided to trust their opinion, and once more, they were totally correct. It's difficult to explain what IT ENDS WITH US is about without delving into spoilers territory, but abuse is a prominent theme. It was a theme in some of her other books, too, but here, I felt that Hoover really went out of her way to deal with it as realistically and sensitively as possible. If you're interested enough to read the afterward, you'll find out why.
The best comparison I can think of is to imagine that a character in one of Sarah Dessen's books grew up and then decided to narrate the dramatic experiences in her early twenties. Like all other CoHo protagonists, Lily Bloom has unconventional quirks and an irritating name, but it's seriously downplayed. Likewise, the slut-shaming is completely absent. Lily's friendship with Allysa and Lucy is decent and healthy. Her relationships are a bit more complicated for reasons that are difficult to explain, but I wasn't really happy with either love interest, not even the one I was supposed to be.
The negative reviews I looked at complained that this book relies on emotional manipulation to get the point across, and while I didn't take issue with that as much as they did, I totally get what they mean. On a scale of one to Jodi Picoult, this book scores Jodi Picoult. But I was so pleased by the strength of the writing and the satisfying ending that I was able to ignore my qualms. I did have qualms, though, and that's the reason this book is getting three stars from me, as opposed to four or five. I just wasn't invested enough in Lily to feel the feelings that made everyone feel. I did sympathize with her though, and I thought the author's note at the end was really powerful.
This is a solid addition to Colleen Hoover's repertoire. There are now two Colleen Hoover books that I did not hate. I'm slowly stepping out of Team WTF, and finding that, while the grass may not be quite as green on the other side of the camp, there are some very lovely flowers scattered throughout here and there for those who care to enjoy them.
3 out of 5 stars.