Colleen Hoover’s #1 New York Times bestselling book, It Ends With Us, is being made into a movie, with Blake Lively and Justin Baldoni recently announced as the leading roles.
Released in 2016, the book remained on The New York Times Bestsellers list for 90 weeks and was the top selling book of 2022 (even outselling the Bible), after its popularity escalated thanks to BookTok. So why is one of the world’s most popular authors being accused of romanticising domestic abuse?
What is It Ends With Us about?
Loosely based on Colleen’s mother’s experience of domestic abuse, It Ends With Us tells the story of how Lily falls in love with an abusive man, like her own mother did before her.
Lily Bloom moves to Boston after graduating college. There, she meets neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid, and the pair spark a romance. Lily becomes an exception to Ryle’s “no dating rule” and the pair fall in love and eventually get married.
Ryle’s sister Alyssa, becomes Lily’s best friend as well as employee, as Lily opens her own florists - which comes as no surprise when you know her last time.
But their intense romance is not all as it seems when Ryle begins to physically abuse Lily.
As Colleen writes on the blurb, "sometimes it's the ones that love you who hurt you the most."
Is It Ends With Us a romance novel?
It Ends With Us is often marketed as a romance novel which could, in itself, be problematic.
The 43-year-old author from Texas has explained how the book is a loosely based on her mother’s own experience of domestic violence. In the dedications at the start of the book, Colleen writes: “For my father, who tried his very best not do be his worst. And for my mother, who made sure we never saw him at his worst.”
When announcing that Lily will be played by Blake Lively and Ryle by Justin Baldoni in the movie adaptation, Colleen posted a video of herself online stood in front of her childhood home and paid tribute to her mother.
She said: “I just want everyone to know how appreciative I am to my mother, who got us out of a scary situation when I was little and brought us here to this house which doesn’t look like much but was full of love and joy,” she explained. “So thank you, Mum, for making that very difficult decision. The fact that we are now discussing a movie that was made from a book that was loosely inspired by my mother, it’s bittersweet. So many people have had to go through what she did, but to know my mum’s decision has helped so many people get out of that. I love you, Mum.”
And in her personal author’s note at the end of the book, Colleen writes: “When I decided I wanted to write this story, I first asked my mother for permission. I told her I wanted to write it for women like her. I also wanted to write it for all the people who don’t quite understand women like her.”
Whilst it’s true that the book contains romance and sexual content, it’s also clear that the main plot of the book is the domestic abuse Lily is experiencing.
Categorising a book about domestic abuse as ‘romance’ can be damaging. As we’ve seen unravel on BookTok, social media has turned a story about domestic abuse into something completely different. It Ends With Us has even featured in the #SpicyTok (in other words romantic, steamy books) section of book stores - an interesting decision for a book which centres around a woman being abused.
Why is It Ends With Us accused of being problematic?
The negative responses to Colleen Hoover and her books over the past year have been overwhelming, with some negative book reviews gaining hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
When read strictly as a romance novel, it would be easy to agree that It Ends With Us is problematic.
The main reason the book has been labelled as problematic, is for ‘romanticising domestic abuse.’
The first time Lily and Ryle tell each other they love one another is in the aftermath of him being physically abusive for the first time. As his aggressive behaviour continues, Lily repeatedly makes the decision to stay with Ryle, even though she is aware of the danger she is in, because she loves him.
Lily constantly points out the differences she sees between Ryle and her abusive father, such as Ryle’s compassion.
Ryle then cites childhood trauma as the reason behind his outbursts of anger and physical abuse. He tells her that when he was a child, he accidentally shot and killed his brother Emerson. He says it destroyed him and sometimes he still gets angry and can't control his temper. Lily forgives him and says that he has to walk away whenever he gets angry with her in the future and she believes there is “more good in him than bad.”
Critics on social media have questioned Lily’s decision to stay with Ryle despite the danger she knows he poses. Whilst her decisions appear questionable, it may be much easier to judge from the outside - none of us know what we would do until we were faced with that situation ourselves.
In a review of the book, PolandBananasBOOKS, said: “So many times, when a woman is being abused by her husband or her boyfriend, if you’re witnessing it from afar, it’s so easy to blame the victim.”
And when Lily’s daughter is born at the end of the book, she does make the difficult decision to leave him because she doesn’t want her daughter to grow up witnessing the same abuse she did when she was younger. Hence the title, ‘It Ends With Us.’
Plans for the colouring book were quickly scrapped after backlash from fans.
Another cause for controversy came in January 2023, when Colleen announced the release of The Official It Ends With Us Colouring Book. The backlash was almost instant as critics labelled the decision as ‘tone-deaf’ and ‘insensitive.’
24 hours after its announcement, the colouring book was cancelled due to the overwhelming negative response. The proposed book instantly received a one star rating on GoodReads as one user wrote: “Imagine writing a romanticised abuse novel based on your mother’s experiences and then turning it into a colouring book” and another said: “This colouring book shouldn’t be a thing.”
Colleen took to her Instagram stories to apologise to her two million followers.
She wrote: "The colouring book was developed with Lily's strength in mind, but I can absolutely see how this was tone-deaf. I hear you guys and I agree with you. No excuses. No finger pointing. I have contacted the publisher to let them know I would prefer we don't move forward with it. Thank you for the respectful discourse and accountability. Nothing but love.”
Have readers been misguided about the book's main message?
The fact that It Ends With Us is primarily marketed as a romance novel may misguide readers about its main message and alter the content which it is read in.
When reading the book, it almost comes as a shock that it’s a book about domestic violence, and not a love triangle. The blurb gives no mention of a plot twist, or the abuse which Lily goes onto experience, as Colleen writes: “As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan - her first love and a link to her past she left behind…When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.”
Everything from the cover to the colours used and the way the blurb is written, makes it seem like another appealing contemporary romance novel.
But it shouldn’t be ignored that the main plot of the book is domestic abuse - not just a love story. In turn, the fact that the book is marketed as a romance novel is, in part, what leads to the accusations of it being ‘problematic’ and ‘romanticising domestic violence’ in the first place.
Is it really all bad?
Whilst the criticism has been loud, it would be wrong to assume that It Ends With Us is all bad. If you understand the context behind why it was written and that the main plot line is domestic abuse, not romance, then you could argue that Hoover is doing some good by providing an insight into what it’s like for women who experience domestic abuse.
And in turn, that may provide some comfort to other people who are going through the same thing as Lily. And it may even give someone the courage to leave - you just don’t know what other people are going through.
Blake Lively is set to star as Lily in the movie adaptation of the book.
In a Reddit thread about It Ends With Us, one user wrote: “As someone who has personally gone through an abusive relationship (emotionally and verbally), I can tell you that that her description and recount of Lily’s experience is 100% spot on.
“When Lily begins doubting herself, losing trust in Ryle, when he gaslights her, reminding herself why she cannot go back to him - these are 100% real lived experience of thousands of women globally.
“This book hit home a bit too hard for me, and of course made me realise that all abusive people are literally the same, but seeing how Lily eventually ends up with Atlas gives me hope.”
Whether you agree Colleen’s writing is problematic or not, it’s clear that It Ends With Us is a story about domestic abuse, not romance.
Despite the criticism, there is no ignoring the success of the book, and Colleen Hoover herself. Given the conversation around her writing, it will be interesting to see how fans and critics respond to the movie adaptation.
A release date for the film hasn’t been announced yet, but you can find out everything BLOT knows about the movie so far here.
If you liked this post then read Why the rise in LGBTQ+ romance novels is important or Think piece: is discrimination necessary for works of fiction? next.
Yasmin is a third year journalism student at The University of Sheffield, specialising in feature writing. She has previously written for the Sheffield Tribune and women’s magazine Pick Me Up! She is particularly interested in how mental health issues are portrayed in fiction.
Favourite genres: Romance, Crime and Thrillers.