First published in 2014
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads
Wow. Who knew a stalking, murdering sociopath could actually be kinda sorta... likeable?! Joe Goldberg, New York City bookstore manager, is handsome (we assume), whip-smart despite the fact that he didn't go to college (we know), and extremely... devoted to his girlfriends.
The moment aspiring writer Guinevere Beck walks into Mooney's Rare and Used Books, her fate is sealed. Joe knows they're meant to be together -- he has to have her, he has to protect her, he has to love and spoil her, he has to help her see what's best for herself.
In shockingly quick fashion -- from a stolen phone and a lot of social media -- Joe basically learns everything there is to know about Beck, and thus begins their (initially one-sided) courtship. The ease of this feat will make you want to double-check your social media privacy settings. Yikes.
Joe is downright scary in his obsession. He follows Beck everywhere, he reads every single one of her e-mails, he sneaks into her apartment and steals souvenirs, he knows more about Beck than she knows about herself -- and he "helps" her get rid of some of the distractions in her life, roadblocks to their relationship. The whole thing is just utterly creepy, and the fact that the story is told by Joe to Beck makes it even weirder. (i.e. "You didn't walk in here for books, Beck. You didn't have to say my name. You didn't have smile or listen or take me in. But you did.")
The thing is, though, that while Joe is a terrifying sociopath creep and definitely should be locked up in prison forever, he's kinda charming. And brilliantly smart. And utterly enchanted by and dedicated to Beck. He will literally do anything for her and he loves every. single. thing. about her. Except that -- despite the fact that nobody should go through the horrors that Beck does -- I didn't love Beck, not at all.
We readers learn an awful lot about Beck, and we're not blinded by passion and fixation like Joe, who managed to put a positive spin on all of Beck's worst qualities. It turns out that Beck is not a very nice person. I hated just about everything about her, from her slovenly habits to her greed to her excessive sexuality to her lying to her using people to her obsession with being the center of attention. She is really kind of despicable. And it's a very odd thing as a reader to want to shake the sociopath by the shoulders and tell him that this girl is not worth his pure and total devotion, his unadulterated love.
I would say "You" is both a crime thriller -- in that we're constantly wondering about Beck's eventual fate -- and a psychological thriller where readers are taken on a frightening ride through a stalker's thoughts. The book lagged a bit in the middle, but I still turned pages like nobody's business. I thought overall the writing was pretty good. But what's really special about this book is Kepnes' ability to make me despise the person who, by all rights, I should be cheering for, and make me -- not like, not empathize with -- simply not hate the crazy stalker nutcase.
I'm planning to continue Joe Goldberg's story with "Hidden Bodies," which just came out last month. And while I was reading "You" -- and reading passages aloud to my husband -- I was thinking it would make a good movie. Turns out other people felt the same, because it's being developed into a TV show for Showtime!