A woman is crowned with a huge, curly red wig, strutting down the street, clad in competing patterns. Boxers are sitting above low-rise trousers, all partially hidden beneath a mustard yellow jacket and stripey button down, with flashy golden boots peeking out below frayed edges. This startling image is not a challenge that Tyra subjected exhausted competitors to in an early season of America’s Next Top Model, nor is it the moment a young Disney star (sans stylist) swaggered onto their first red carpet in the early 2000s. Instead, this woman is Blake Lively and this achievement in bizarre costuming is the first glimpse that people were granted of the onscreen adaptation of the hugely popular novel, It Ends with Us, from perennially online author Colleen Hoover.
Fans of the book responded immediately, and derisively, to these fractured snippets; “The wig, the outfit, none of this is reading a young girl in her 20s, starting life in the big city!” TikToker Talking to Tequila remarked. In some ways, this is the least compelling kind of internet “discourse”, people negotiating their idea of something, while the finished product lies buried beneath rumors and blurry set photos and TikTok accounts. Yet this discussion also functions as proof of Hoover’s hold on a subset of the culture, and gestures to something interesting in the prickly process of adapting.
Hoover’s books are strange and meandering epics, successfully elucidating and ignoring the state of modern womanhood. In their long sentences and romantic preoccupations, they read as fanfiction for women who have never read fanfiction. Like all of her writing, It Ends with Us unfolds in the first person, with abrasively flirtatious dialogue occasionally interrupting the stream-of-consciousness-style prose. In an Elle profile of Hoover, she expands on the logic behind her undisciplined style: “If I’m supposed to [sit] here talking about character descriptions or describing a room or anything that’s going to make me not interested, I just skip it [and] start writing dialogue. I write what I want to read.” Executing this story from an under-developed, purely subjective vantage point means that character and plot are thrust upon the reader in sudden, unpracticed spurts, erupting from a vague source.
It Ends with Us’ protagonist, Lily Blossom Bloom (Hoover’s bizarre naming strategy could be summarized by that viral “chalkboard baby naming” meme), is a better-defined main character than most of the ilk’s others. Hoover achieves this by placing Lily across various intersections in her own timeline. She lives her adult life, slowly falling in love with the elusive Ryle, while her teenage diary relays a past with Atlas (I warned you about the names). Hoover’s protagonists are empty vessels, in their lack of observance they function as blurry avatars, catching the different kinds of female readers who cross the book’s paths.
Such characterization is made even simpler in Hoover’s unusual use of popular references. Lily’s diary entries are addressed to the comedian Ellen DeGeneres, while her young life is built around the daily talk show. Later, Ryle’s sister talks about planning her week around a Paolo Nutini concert. Hoover manages to build a map of cultural moments, helpfully pinpointing her ensemble amidst the unchic markers of the early 2010s. Lily’s pop culture dictionary is so unnervingly specific that they prove to be the most compelling insights into her character. She hints at this strange framework in a monologue early on: “Don’t get me wrong, the eulogy I delivered won’t be profound enough to make history–like the one Brooke Shields delivered at Michael Jackson’s funeral, or the one delivered by Steve Jobs’s sister, or Pat Tillman’s brother…” These footholds in the wider world are both the greatest arguments against—and the only indicators towards—realism.
All of this is confused by Hoover’s argument that It Ends with Us is designed to draw attention to the threat of domestic violence. As Lily falls into a relationship with Ryle, the signs of abuse gradually develop, eventually proving unavoidable and reflected in the parallel story of her childhood under an abusive father. Hoover misunderstands the functionality of the romance story, and despite imbuing it with potentially deadly consequences, the vacant characters make for a strangely stakes-less story. Ryle and Atlas are both loosely drawn—tall, dark, and handsome, effectively concealing the specifics of Lily’s desires. There are no internal truths that can be gleaned from either relationship, rather it is rendered a simple case of right or wrong; true or false.
Abuse is a serious issue, and Hoover can’t be accused of taking it lightly (as she herself experienced it at a young age), but these grave matters are frequently projected on to the plot rather than organically woven in. In Ugly Love that issue is incest (yes, you heard that right), in Verity it is infanticide and mental illness. The flimsiness of these love stories is partially obstructed by such capital-S, Serious topics. As such, the process of adapting Hoover’s worlds is made simpler in its broadness, her stories are less concerned with the delicate process of building a life together and more taken with the horrifying tension hanging ominously overhead.
Her writing style is excessive and uncontrolled: long sentences that spin out with limited punctuation, reflecting the rhythms of everyone’s unrestrained subconscious. This kind of form is expansive, a blank page stretching out, easy for creatives to inscribe their own ideas onto, easy for screenwriters to channel her purposely non-specific voice. Hoover marks a new iteration for the book-to-screen adaptation, one where the text seems purpose-built to hit the big screen, designed to appeal to as many people as possible. While Jane Austen and E.M. Forster constructed love stories that were contained to their cultural milieu, Hoover embodies our most primal feelings (love, fear, anger), in the crudest setting. It Ends with Us has yet to be deemed a cinematic triumph, but its real success lies in the endlessly replicable formula Hoover has mastered in writing it.
London-based film writer Anna McKibbin loves digging into classic film stars and movie musicals. Find her on Twitter to see what she is currently obsessed with.