Initial reaction: So now when people ask me my favorite book from Colleen Hoover, without hesitation, I'll point to this book. It wasn't a perfect portrayal, but it was honest, raw, and an emotional read. I loved Lily's growth through the narrative. I wish that Atlas had more focus in the narrative though.
Where to begin with reflecting about this book? I'll admit "It Ends With Us" gave me feels that I wasn't expecting to have through the read. Given the story it chooses to show (without spoiling too much about the experience), it makes sense. In addition to Hoover's evocative writing, I think what worked for this book most for me was the development of every single one of the characters and the multidimensional nature of the conflicts presented in the narrative. I don't think Hoover's other narratives have as much of the same kind of raw honesty, maturity, or character growth as this one did. That's what made it more believable for me personally.
Lily Bloom is a young business woman who owns her own flower shop and has grown up with a lot of emotional turmoil. When we meet Lily in the story, she's on the rooftop of a neighborhood building wrestling over her role in her father's funeral. She meets a neurosurgeon named Ryle with whom she shares a connection one fateful night and progressively develops over time (while seemingly quick, it still felt progressive enough to me where I could actually see the character interaction and focus). The story trades spaces back and forth between Lily's present relationship with Ryle and her childhood love Atlas, a homeless boy she shared first times with and gradually grew apart from due to various events. But as Lily's present and past collide in some horrible ways, it forces her to make tough decisions as to the relationships she's in and how it mirrors events and relationships in her past. She really grapples with this and I appreciated seeing her weigh the balance of this - her past, her present, her future. She felt like a multi-dimensional character to me and I rooted for her in the scheme of her relationships and push to make a better life for herself. Heck, I could say this about all the characters in this book, even the ones I didn't care for in terms of their personalities or fatal flaws. I liked the character connections (Lily's relationship with her mother and Ryle's sister were great to read. Even the brief exchanges we got from Lily meeting Atlas's friends as she waited for him to return home held my attention.)
At first I was thinking this book would potentially be a love triangle with a steady burn, but turns out that wasn't the case at all, and I appreciated the way the book handled the clashes of past and present with respect to Ryle and Atlas's exchanges with Lily in a mature way that didn't feel like it was stretching out the tension just for the sake of doing so. I felt more connected to the "crap hitting the fan" moments in this book because they were true to the situations and present realities of the characters rather than just feeling like the conflict was thrown in at the last moment to drive a wedge or create conflict among the characters.
As rough of a character as Ryle was (he has more issues than I care to say - also because of due spoilers), I thought his subsequent development and relationship as portrayed in the novel was rather solid and complex, not simply just complicated. There were parts where I think the narrative could've expounded on his previous experiences, but considering this narrative was Lily's story to tell and the focus remaining on her, I could accept that. I could accept myself thinking that he was full of shit and horrible in terms of the way he treated Lily while also knowing that he wasn't just a singular dimensional character - he was very realistically portrayed as was Lily's sentiments for/about him. When she cared for him, I could see it and when she unleashed her anger on him, I could stand there and rally alongside her as she did so. Atlas had a huge role in Lily's past, but the narrative was limited in that could only see bits of his role in the present. Atlas has been the only male protagonist of Hoover's to date that I could actually get behind - I liked him a lot, even with the brief moments we see him. People usually don't give enough credit to beta males in fiction, especially romance fiction, and that freaking saddens me. His role in this story shouldn't be diminished just because he isn't - say - Ryle's personality type, who has more in common with most of Hoover's previously crafted main male characters. His role also broke the mold in that he truly had more of a supporting role in the narrative than Lily's. He wasn't a knight in shining armor, he wasn't this beacon who swooped in at the most convenient time to defend Lily's honor or some such, he was there to support her when she needed him. Plus, it's not as if he's a perfect character - I appreciated seeing his flaws, background, and really felt for him in some of the narrative's more emotional turns. I just wish he could've been featured a little more, especially as an adult.
Overall, hands down my favorite Hoover novel to date and I honestly hope she doesn't hesitate to explore more emotionally rough narratives like this. It's honestly a breath of fresh air in a category where some of the stories/character types can feel like they're cut from the same page. Usually stepping away from that kind of typing means giving room to explore character emotions and situations in more detail, and that can be challenging, but for me as a reader - I honestly feel that gives more meaning and reward for the reading experience - and I appreciate that she did that here. Also: excellent audio reading from Olivia Song - I really liked her character voices and I felt she really captured Lily's character and emotional resonance spot on.
Overall score: 4.5/5 stars.