This one blew my mind and corrupted it. And it didn’t help that I read The Phantom Tollbooth around the time I read You, not that they’re the same since one is a children’s fantasy novel and the other is a psychological thriller but they both are so mind-boggling that together they will twist your thoughts leaving you lost without your inner voice because whenever you think of something, it will be in the vein of one of these books. Maybe it’s just me who gets so affected by reading these two books at once but even so, I don’t recommend it.
A guy meets a girl and stalks her.
Sorry, I can’t do better than that. You can visit the Goodreads page to find out more but it is hard to summarize this book without giving anything away. Shit, it’s hard to summarize it while giving away spoilers. But one thing’s for sure — the story is damn good. Bits of the story will come out as I discuss my thoughts so be wary. There will be spoilers. It you’d rather avoid them, you can just jump to the Overall section below.
I don’t even know where to start with my thoughts. They’re still tied up though I finished the book last month. Let me start with the narration, which is what frigged my mind. The story is relayed in the second-person, which I thought would wear on me after some time since the second-person narrator is usually a hit or miss in stories. But it works well in this one. The narrator’s voice stuck with me even when I put the book down, and throughout my day, it would creep into my head and I’d find myself thinking in his voice. The narrator is called Joe. Joe is cynical and criticizes damn near everything and everyone he comes in contact with. He even criticizes Beck, the object of his obsessions, though he masks it with a profusion of adoration for her caused by his obsession.
The reasons why his voice stuck with me are because it’s distinct and because of how intimate the use of the second-person narrator is. I find it more intimate than the use of the first-person narrator. But then, that’s probably because Joe narrates the story as if he’s speaking to Beck, telling her everything he does to get closer to her. All the details he goes into and the emotional rides that he pulls us on makes reading what he tells us more intimate than any first-person narrated story I’ve ever read. He pulls us in close and he seems to hold nothing back as he details exactly what he did or is doing. No edits.
“Eye contact is what keeps us civilized.”
Because of how well we get to know Joe, we can’t help rooting for him though we know it’s wrong. Kepnes does such a great job writing from his perspective that we end up wanting Joe to get the girl, to get Beck. And we’re as frustrated as he is whenever Beck doesn’t recognize his efforts. So though I knew it’s wrong and though I tried hard not to, part of me rooted for Joe, was happy when he finally got with Beck, was pissed when she flaked on him, and was angry to learn she had cheated and lied. Don’t get it twisted though, I did not root for Joe’s murders; but when it comes to his emotions, it’s hard to untangle yourself from them.
Plus, Joe’s voice lulls you into believing he’s being truthful because he tricks himself into seeing only what works to his advantage. He ignores reality and focuses on his fantasy of him and Beck together. As such, he is an unreliable narrator, but I guess from the moment a reader sees that the story is told in the second person her hackles rise, wary of being tricked by the narrator. Much of what Joe criticizes others for can also be applied to him. The most prominent is the fact that so many people buy into social media to present an idealized image of their self that’s more appealing and less true of who they really are. Though Joe makes a fine point there, it also applies to him because he goes to extremes to make himself available and appealing to Beck and isn’t truthful to her about who he is.
He doesn’t even see Beck for who she really is, though he thinks he does. He ignores all the signs that she’s using him and tricking him as much as he is tricking her. And that’s another reason why we end up liking Joe because we can see that Beck is playing Joe though he’s blind to it. And we think it’s unfair because we see the lengths Joe goes to to get her but then again, it’s those extreme lengths that show that Joe is a creep and a bad guy but Beck isn’t a good girl either and…. Again, it’s hard not to like Joe and get warped in his emotions.
It’s hard to pull yourself away from him because all components of the story work well together and they all focus on Joe. The pace especially pulls you to him. Kepnes tempers her build-ups. She flirts with us as much as Beck flirts with Joe. And it’s both exciting and frustrating to see Joe get close to his goal — both Joe and the reader gets excited, anticipating what will happen next — only see him fail and have to think of some other way to score with Beck. And because of how cynic Joe is, you can’t help but chuckle sometimes at the bitter, ugly truths that Joe usually realizes when he gets rejected by Beck. And that’s another thing about this book. It’s a psychological thriller and it deals with something serious — how easy it can be for someone to stalk you — but it’s also hilarious in some spots. (Well, I found most of it funny, especially whenever Stephen King is mentioned.)
“I love Stephen King as much as any red rum drinking American, but I resent the fact that I, the bookseller, am his bitch.”
But much as I enjoyed this story, the fact that Joe gets away with as much as he did — the murders and the stalking — without being detected didn’t ring true to me. Everything seemed to work out too perfectly for him to the point where I started to think “Boy, he’s one lucky guy.” But there is a second book following this one, which I knew of but was still surprised to see when I was done, so maybe in that second book he’ll have to account for his crimes. Joe is a smart guy so he can believably get away with much but not without getting questioned.
This didn’t detract from my enjoyment either but I didn’t like Beck, though I don’t think we are supposed to like her. She’s so narcissistic. But I think that she symbolizes how most of us have become these days — full of ourselves yet projecting a false image of ourselves to appeal to the masses. Joe often says that Beck is too open, reveals too much, and I see that as a commentary on how much we tend to overshare online; though it’s hypocritical that I’m stating this here, on a blog where I reveal bits of myself every time I post. Still, I think this story is a warning for what could happen if we are not careful.
You is well-written and the story is gripping. Amongst other things, I also liked the numerous references to current media, which helped to make the story more entertaining. I love the story and I would recommend it to those who love thrillers, mysteries, distinct voices, or would like to try a story told using a second-person narrator. But I wouldn’t recommend it to those who go by Beck, Becky, or even Rebecca. They might get creeped out.
Speaking of which, from the reviews I’ve read, some readers were creeped out by how the story is narrated because the persistent usage of you throughout made it seem as if the narrator is speaking to you, the reader, and if you are female, you might be uncomfortable with that. The narrator can be crude and vulgar at times and that coupled with how it’s narrated will definitely creep some people out. I wasn’t much bothered by it, probably because I found the story funny, but I can see how it can make someone uncomfortable.
Because of how successful Kepnes was in pulling off this story and creating a character that is obviously twisted but you can’t help liking, I often wondered about her writing process for this story. What inspirations did she draw on? How did the idea come about? Did she do much research? Who’s the influence for Joe? How did she choose the voice? Why the second person, though it worked well? I really would like to know.
Anyways, another great read and I look forward to the second in the series.
Hidden Bodies (book 2) —>
Quotes from the book:
“The only thing crueler than a cage so small that a bird can’t fly is a cage so large that a bird thinks it can fly.”
“What a shame to be so angered by what you don’t have that you treat what you do have like it’s nothing.”
“…The problem with books is that they end. They seduce you. They spread their legs to you and pull you inside. And you go deep and leave your possessions and your ties to the world at the door and you like it inside and you don’t want for your possessions or your ties and then, the book evaporates.”