Review: You (Caroline Kepnes)

I never thought I’d be writing a “review” for a Did Not Finish but I think people deserve to be warned about the dumpster fire that is this novel.

you caroline kepnes

I’m pretty sure this is a new DNF record for me– I only made it six pages before giving up in disgust. I picked it up after seeing a review on Emma’s blog saying it was one of her only favorites of 2017.

It’s essentially a stream-of-consciousness narrative, written in 2nd person. So basically, you’re reading everything that our narrator is thinking. Which would be really great, if our narrator wasn’t a hyper-pretentious, misogynistic man-child and a judgmental piece of trash. Here’s some of the standout lines from the first two chapters:

  1. Your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are. (Congrats, Joe. You managed to make me hate you by the second sentence of the entire book.)
  2. “No, you’re not like those girls. You don’t stage Faulkner and your jeans hang loose.” (Anything along the lines of “you’re not like other girls” is an instant and enormous red flag for me.)
  3. “You sneeze, loudly, and I imagine how loud you are when you climax.”
  4. “This guy is, what, thirty-six and he’s only now reading Franny and Zooey?”
  5. “You could be buying it because you read on some stupid blog that she’s Courtney Love’s biological grandmother. I can’t be sure that you’re buying Paula Fox because you came to her the right way, from a Jonathan Franzen essay.” (FYI: there is no ‘right way’ to come across a book or a song or a movie. Different people have access to different things and it’s great that a wonderful piece of literature crossed their path, regardless of how it got there.)
  6. “You giggle and I wish your nipples were still hard.”
  7. “You hand me your credit card even though you have enough cash in there to cover it. You want me to know your name.” (Or you’re an arrogant garbage boy who can’t conceive of people allocating money for things other than you.)
  8. “He waits near her apartment and stages a run-in. Brilliant, romantic. Love takes work.” (Idolizes the stalking is love trope, naturally.)
  9. “Nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands. Except for you, Beck. These past few days, I’ve learned so much. You put your tiny hands to work on yourself when the mood strikes, which it does, often, which reminds me of another joke in Hannah, where Mia Farrow teases Woody Allen that he ruined himself with excessive masturbation.”
  10. “Besides, I like that you take care of yourself instead of filling your home and your pussy with a string of inadequate men.” (Add a nice dollop of slut shaming and Danielle is out of here.)

I dropped the book after that line. My hypothesis was that Joe was intentionally written to be abrasive and appalling, but I really don’t want to spend my time absorbing an entire book from the POV of an awful person. So I went to goodreads and read the blurb, then proceeded to read all the spoilers, then all the one-star reviews to assure myself that I wasn’t the only one disgusted by this. Then I finally read Emma’s review.

The thing is, I totally get what she’s saying.

It is creepy, because it’s so within the realm of possibility that a boy at the store finds you attractive and then takes it too far. I can understand, in theory, why people like and connect with the book. But I can’t justify sitting through so much slop for a trite and violent end. Perhaps the plot would have been better packaged in a different narrative style to make the entire ordeal feel less normalized? Because that’s what this book does: normalize stalking and violence and the sexualization of strangers.

At least half of the 4 and 5 star reviews I read on goodreads talked about they found themselves rooting for Joe during the book. How even though they know he’s gross and sadistic, they still sympathize with his character. And on one hand, I absolutely think that’s an impressive feat for a writer: to have written their villain well enough that people can associate with him on a human level. But on the other hand, that’s just downright disturbing. That would be like telling Hard Candy from the POV of the pedophile. There is no excuse, no logic, no justification for stalking a stranger and killing people to reach her.

I watched the new Netflix original series The End of the F***ing World last week and was surprised to find that the first episode has a similar premise to this book. A troubled young white male targets a firecracker of a young white female and shenanigans ensue. Except the show handles it deftly and tenderly and creatively. There isn’t any hyper-sexualization of female characters, there aren’t endless asides about how subpar other people are because they don’t like the “right” things, and there isn’t any excessive vulgarity used for the sole sake of shock effect. Because the show is still new, I’m not going to say much about it for those who haven’t watched it yet. But I will say this: it’s a tender coming-of-age story in a wholly unique frame. If you tried to read You and couldn’t make it past the third chapter, try watching The End of the F***ing World.


Review: Heartless

-this review contains spoilers-

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

When I started reading Heartless, I totally forgot that it was a Queen of Hearts origin story. I had this book on my reading list for ages because of my adoration for Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, but by the time I finally got to pick it up, I had forgotten what it was even about. That is probably why a lot of my annoyances while reading the book came from the shoehorned Alice in Wonderland references. Between the pepper chef, the rocking horse flies, the smoking caterpillar, the line about the Tweedles, the jabberwocky, hedgehog croquet, and Cheshire himself, I found myself gritting my teeth with the obviousness of it all and how unlike Meyer it was. Then I got to the end and realized that this was actually all backstory for one of the most iconic villains of all time, which placated me a little bit– but not very much.


Because with that being said… I don’t think this is a solid origin story. At all. Meyer’s characters and plot points would have worked so much better as a retelling similar to The Lunar Chronicles, which used their original fairytales as a touchstone rather than as a strict reference text. For example: while the traditional Wonderland aspect carries over well in that Hearts is full of frustratingly obtuse folks, I found myself infinitely more interested in Chess than in Hearts. It seemed counterproductive for an entire world to be created (especially one created by Melissa Meyer) only for us to spend no time there. Instead of absorbing a fresh new world with fresh new rules and characters, we had to spend this entire story trudging through a slight variation of the same world we have been force-fed for ages.

For years, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was one of my favorite pieces of literature. I loved it so much that I did an entire stylized photoshoot around it, was gifted a first edition of the book (swoon), and even considered a tattoo inspired by the story. [Emma of Emma Reads Too Much has some pretty spot-on thoughts on Carroll’s original book that you should absolutely read here.] Unfortunately, there have been so many renditions and interpretations of it that it has lost much of its magic for me. I hated Tim Burton’s two movies on the subject and have grown to loathe the excessive amount of themed gifts found in bookstores and indie shops.

The themes of time and repetition in Heartless were reminiscent of Burton’s concepts, and the endless litany of overt references to the original book felt self-gratuitous. This was the opposite of why I was excited for a Wonderland-themed book by Meyer in the first place– she has left me delighted and entranced by her inventiveness and originality, while still making the reader glow with twists on traditional references (i.e.: a cyborg foot for Cinderella’s shoe, a satellite orbiting in space for Rapunzel’s tower). Sadly, this book left me disappointed by absolutely everyone except Jest and The Sisters.

I was particularly peeved by the Marchioness and ‘Hatta’. The Marchioness was the true villain of the story. She’s controlling, verbally abusive, and is endlessly fat-shaming the main character. I couldn’t believe that no one ever stood up to her, especially in a book by the Melissa Meyer, where the leads tend to be brave and stand up for themselves. I wanted so badly to adore Hatta. Carroll’s Hatter is one of the most off-the-wall and quirky characters of all time, and as much as I disliked Burton/Depp’s rendition, he still managed to make me feel emotional and nostalgic. But Hatta is a sorry excuse for the dynamic and heart-breaking character he could have been. When we’re first introduced, my thought was “a female Hatter would have been a nice change” but that quickly turned into “wow I totally ship Hatta and Jest over Cath and Jest.” Which isn’t out of the normal for me, but then! It turns out! That Hatta loved Jest all along! But never said anything! I cry foul. That’s queerbaiting if I’ve ever seen it. I disagreed with people who claimed BBC’s Sherlock and Watson was queerbaiting. I even partially disagreed with people who felt that Albus and Scorpius’s relationship in Rowling’s Cursed Child was queerbaiting. But this was shameful. To hint at it for 300 pages only to reveal the truth and have Jest killed without ever knowing, leading Hatta to go mad with sorrow, is despicable. I expected so much better from Meyer than half-baked LGBTQ+ representation.

I’ve been so enamored with Meyer’s brand of kickass female leads– with her women and girls who solve things and save people and stick up for others and strive to be better– that Cath was an unparalleled disappointment. She was indecisive, spineless, whiny, and intolerant. As I’ve mentioned before, indecisiveness is a big pet peeve for me. Cath’s repetitive reasoning and cyclical complaining was downright exhausting, especially because she never did anything to actively change her fate. Insta-love also plays a huge role in this story, which is something that automatically sets me on edge. I’ve read The Lunar Chronicles three times, and have always been pleased by the fact that Meyer writes the romance in a way that leaves the reader very invested without feeling that it’s the centerpiece of the story. Heartless utterly fails in that regard. The warring world of Chess and the endless deaths occurring there are apparently insignificant in the face of a month-long love affair.

Long story short, Heartless left me disappointed in more ways than one. I’ve come to expect much better from Melissa Meyer than under-cooked storylines and half-hearted characters. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland always has, and always will, deserve better.


When I first started this blog, I wanted to do something called Eye-Roll Reviews. The idea came to me after reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which had me rolling my eyes on every page. I haven’t read any such books (until this one) since I started writing reviews on here, so I haven’t quite worked out how to format such a review. So for now, I’m just going to list my eye-roll-inducing lines, in case any other readers were annoyed by the same things.

“It had been a hazy, beautiful dream, and in it there had been a hazy, beautiful boy.”

“But she had not realized that he was also quite handsome.”

“Impossible was his specialty. The way he had touched her hand had awoken something inside her she had never felt before. Something giddy, but also nervous. Something curious, but also afraid. And if her dreams were to be believed, he was a very, very good kisser.”

“Romance. Passion. Love. She had never experienced them before, but she imagined they would leave her feeling like that dream had. Like the Joker did, with his quick smiles and witty remarks. She felt like she could talk to him for hours, for days and months and years, and never tire of it.” (Girl, you JUST MET HIM.)

“He did, however, offer his elbow, which she accepted, folding her fingers around his arm and surprised to find more muscle there than his lithe frame would suggest.”

“Overnight her life had become a whirlpool, sucking her below the surface.”

Review: Annihilation

-this review contains spoilers-

“When you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”

I should probably preface this with a disclaimer: I read the book because I saw the trailer. The movie is coming out in February and features a pretty incredible cast (Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, and Jennifer Jason Leigh). I think there’s a possibility that the huge differences between the tone of the trailer and the tone of the book made it a little difficult for me to really get into the book at first. The trailer is colorful where the book is understated, romantic where the book is virtually emotionless, and full of horror-style tension where the book is intentionally monotone.


Common consensus is that it’s very well-written… to which I wholeheartedly disagree. I don’t think the clinical style of the biologist’s journal entries lends anything to the story or to the characterization. On the contrary, the writing style makes it almost impossible for the reader to empathize with any of the characters. I learned all too well through House of Leaves just how powerful it is to make stylistic choices that mimic the plot points themselves, so I think the writing style in Annihilation could have worked beautifully if done properly, considering the biologist herself struggles to connect with people and form attachment. However, I really do feel that this book could have benefited with a slightly more human tone. I think a good comparison would be to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Talk about your minimalistic writing styles! But in that novel, the bare bones approach works to build the eeriness of the setting, the grittiness of the process, and the despair of The Man. In Annihilation, the sparseness only serves to make me feel detached. The writing is beautiful in some places (e.g. all of the lines of “scripture” on the walls and some of the more tender descriptions of nature) but truly bland in others. There are lines that give me chills, but that effect is primarily due to the fact that they are moments that stand out from the otherwise monotonous narration, not because they are particularly gripping or beautifully written. I saw another review that mentioned reading between the lines to pick up on certain things, but again, I feel like even that was poorly done. Some of the strongest in-between-the-lines writing I’ve come across in recent memory is that of George R.R. Martin when he’s discussing specific things, namely relationships and torture. His characters make hyper-subtle asides regarding Renly Baratheon’s sexuality, and the only way we can even begin to know the extent of what happened to Theon is by picking up on what he doesn’t say. But when it comes to monsters and paranoia, I think it takes an extremely skilled writer to make the less-is-more approach work in their favor. All in all, I was overwhelmingly disappointed with VanderMeer’s writing style, despite the brilliance of his concept. I think the strong point of the writing is that it kept the book short, which allows for it to be read in one sitting and consequently, allows what tension there is to build.

The knowledge that this is a trilogy gives me an ounce of patience regarding the frustrating lack of resolution and reveals. I think I might have truly enjoyed this if there had been a real climax– or even a more clear-cut climax instead of one that made me re-read the scene three times. I’ve been told that the next book features different characters, which makes me more inclined to pick it up. But what I really want is answers. I want to know about the border door and the creatures that came to the lighthouse and the assimilation of Area X and what the deal is with the writing on the wall.

What worked for me: I was really pleased with how deftly VanderMeer wrote the full cast of females. His characterization of these women is the exact opposite of what bothers me in books like The Circle. Each character is unique, has her own set of strengths and weaknesses, and is perfectly capable of doing her respective job. There isn’t any jealousy or petty bickering– all the arguments revolve around the entirely plausible stress of Area X and how to proceed. I was also really pleased by the inclusion of an unreliable narrator, which I tend to adore (a la Catcher in the Rye and The Girl on the Train). Our entire touchstone to the world and the other characters is through the eyes of the biologist. This makes it increasingly difficult to know how much is accurate and how much is just her own personal bias speaking. Is the world actually changing and dangerous or is the biologist’s mind playing tricks on her?

My overall takeaway is that there is too much emphasis on presenting the mysteries without any emphasis on solving them. We are presented with the feelings of being observed by their surroundings, the anomaly of this ecological wonderland, the strange hybrid creatures everywhere (not to mention the ones climbing the lighthouse) and the frustratingly vague “brightness” within the biologist. But when it comes down to it, the best explanation we get is that Area X is a thorn thrust into the side of the earth. Literally, that’s the explanation.

“Think of it as a thorn, perhaps, a long, thick thorn so large it is buried deep in the side of the world. Injecting itself into the world. Emanating from this giant thorn is an endless, perhaps automatic, need to assimilate and to mimic.”

This may sound like I hated the book, but I didn’t. Was I disappointed by the stylistic choices? Yes, very much so. However, I do think it’s an intriguing storyline with some plot points that really caught my fancy (e.g. all those hidden journals, like holy jeebus). Based on the trailer, I think it’s safe to say that the movie is going to deviate massively from the book, and to be honest, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.