Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

Your lips were made for mine, Beck. You are the reason I have a mouth, a heart.

I wanted to read something creepy to get me into the Halloween mood, and so I picked up this book in hopes of getting a different sort of scare. Friends: I really got what I asked for.

You follows the story of a man stalking a woman after she walks into the bookstore he works at one day and immediately develops an obsession. The unique thing about this novel is that it’s written in a mix of first and second person, meaning that we see many sentences like “you do xyz” followed by his reaction to these words or actions written in first person. In my opinion, this was what really solidified the creepy factor of this book, especially if you’re listening to the audiobook version. Not only does this get into the main character’s head, but it allows the reader to feel the all-consuming nature of his thoughts directed at one single person.

I started the audiobook on a bus ride home with my boyfriend, and after we got home, he asked “What were you listening to? You looked like you were going through a lot.” That’s an understatement. It was so hard to sit still through Joe’s ramblings and tangents. What’s surprising was that the things that made my skin crawl the most weren’t his violating actions, but the thought processes that lead to them. What struck me was that I recognized snippets of these thoughts in people I once knew, particularly one man who decided we were dating after a few times hanging out. One of the lines in the novel — you said ‘bang’ and you said ‘Joe’ and that has to mean something — hit me so hard because it was exactly the same kind of thing that man had once said to me. The guesswork required to draw the most extreme conclusions was so upsetting to read, it was bordering on funny. Because, we all know this person, don’t we? The one who decides that another is fated for them, and they’ll stop at nothing to have them? The one who doesn’t mind a lie or two or seventy to get what they want? Maybe it’s not to the degree that it is for Joe, but we’ve all seen that sliver of something that gives us pause.

I honestly think the audiobook was a better way of going about reading this (at least for me). The narrator delivered a fantastic performance, managing to sound controlling and calculated while still maintaining the cool exterior that allows people to trust him. The book is full of sentences that sound like crazed rambles, thoughts upon thoughts driven by obsession, and the narrator reads them perfectly. He’s tense in all the right moments, frightening in his calmness and self-assurance. He thinks he’s better than everyone, and his anger and frustration comes out not in raised voices, but long-winded rambles. I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of anger that scares me the most: the quiet & expecting anger.

Needless to say, I couldn’t stop listening. I was engrossed in Joe’s twisted brain, hoping he would be thwarted while at the same time wondering how he would get out of certain situations (and subsequently being disgusted whenever he did). I saw someone say that they thought the minor characters weren’t as fleshed out, but I think that makes sense for the narrative. Joe doesn’t really care about anybody apart from himself, Beck, and the people who stand in the way of them being together; his intense attention is selective, so of course he wouldn’t give the reader as much information as he does for the characters he actually cares about, whether that be genuine care or as a means to get what he wants.

One more thing about the audiobook, though this is just a silly thought I had: the voice the narrator does for one of the characters sounded like the voice of Joey in the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged series. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing, just kind of hysterical.

In all seriousness, though, You was such a creepy novel and got under my skin in ways I didn’t think were even possible. Caroline Kepnes really understands how easy it is to violate someone, and the ins-and-outs of manipulation. It’s definitely not an easy read, and sometimes downright disgusting; Joe is by no means a likable character, and definitely not even one that you can say you love to hate. But if you’re in the mood for something a little different, I’d definitely recommend this book.


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