by Maggie Reese ‘24
As TikTok has become increasingly influential, the #booktok subculture emerged in recent years. Colleen Hoover became a TikTok sensation with more than one billion tags that laid the path for her to become a #1 New York Times bestseller with a Goodreads award-winning book with over a million reviews. As Hoover’s 2016 book It Ends with Us climbed the bestseller list in 2020, readers continuously begged for more and practically forced Hoover to write a sequel. Her new novel It Starts with Us tells fan favorite Atlas’s side of the story from his perspective and shares what comes next in this long-anticipated sequel to It Ends with Us.
Hoover’s 2016 novel concludes with promising a happy, stable ending between two tortured souls. Lily remains strong and decides to divorce Ryle, breaking the never ending cycle of abuse (hence “it ends with us”). The alternating chapters told by Atlas and Lily in It Starts with Us shows the aftermath of domestic violence. There’s an underlying intensity and realness, especially in the depiction of Lily and Atlas’s emotional conflicts and conversation with each other. The tone is honest and from the heart.
Presently in the narrative of It Starts with Us, Lily runs her flower shop while Ryle continues his career as a surgeon, as they now co-parent their daughter, Emerson. Lily refuses to permit Emerson to stay overnight at the house of her abusive ex-husband until Emerson is old enough to talk “so she can tell me if something happens.” Although craving full custody, Lily is reluctant to fight for it in court because that would become expensive, start drama, and possibly a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. Atlas, who is single and owns a restaurant, feels the same way.
Although Lily is divorced, she isn’t exactly free. She plans out her dates with Atlas very carefully to avoid confrontation with Ryle. Behind his veneer of civility, jealousy and resentment simmer in her ex-husband. Meanwhile, Atlas’s mother returns to his life with jaw-dropping news. It demonstrates that Atlas is proof that no matter the turmoil people are experiencing, it is still possible to treat those around you with care and respect.
As Lily struggles between childcare, breastfeeding, and trying to find time for herself while also owning her own business, she still finds time to share romantic moments with Atlas that are even sweeter for their genuineness in her otherwise difficult times. There are moments of awkwardness and sincerity as Lily juggles the realities of motherhood with a romance that makes her feel 16 again. This journey is masterfully peppered with flashes of fear and anxiety prompted by Ryle’s behavior, which is still as unpredictable as ever.
As the sequel wasn’t certainly necessary as the ending to It Ends With Us left readers imaging their own ending for the heartbreaking novel the eagerly awaited It Starts with Us will not disappoint Hoover’s fans and lives up to their high expectations. Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, the novel powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse and the strength of its survivors. Through unbearable tension contrasted with gleams of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.