“You” – The Story of a Not-So Average Joe
If you have spent any time browsing Netflix over the past few months or have been on social media over the past few years, it is likely that you have heard of the show called “You.” The show stars Penn Badgley as the main character, Joe Goldberg, and was arguably one of the platform’s greatest successes with over 40 million views in the first month it was available to stream. The series was very successful, but did you know it was based on a book?
“You” by Caroline Kepnes was released in 2014 and was published by Emily Bestler Books/Atria. The novel is around 422 pages of psycho-stalker narration and its audio counterpart is just over 11 hours.
“You” was picked up by Lifetime to create a television series. The first season released on Lifetime in 2018 and was available to stream on Netflix that same year. After the show’s initial success, Netflix picked up the series for a second season which was released exclusively on their platform in 2019. Netflix has already renewed the show for a third season which is set to be released in 2021.
If you haven’t seen the show or read the book, it has an incredibly interesting plot that revolves around one main character named Joe Goldberg. Joe works at a bookstore in the East Village of New York City. When a beautiful new customer comes into the store, he is instantly intrigued. Through a quick Google search, Joe learns her name; Guinevere Beck. Joe gets far too involved in his interest in Beck, to the point of obsession. His love for Beck grows with each day as he tries to make his way into her heart. He just never anticipated how many obstacles would be in his way and the atrocities he would commit for love.
Easily, the most interesting thing about this book is that it is told in second person. Rather than a third-party narration or a first-person perspective, Joe narrates the entire thing to “you.” Of course, there is a reason for that in the end, but this completely different style of storytelling was incredibly effective at creating an eerie setting. While following someone with stalkerish tendencies and unhealthy obsessions should be creepy enough, this writing choice made by Kepnes further set the tone of the novel.
Categorizing this book would be difficult. I have not been exposed to many stories in the perspective of a stalker, so this book was refreshing in that sense. It is unlike common thrillers, which is why I’m not even sure I consider it one. In a thriller, readers are constantly on their toes and waiting for the monsters to pop out from under the bed. In “You,” we’re following the monster. We get a clear look at the villain’s motivations and actions, because the monster himself is telling us what he did. This created complexity in the plot and characterization, which was one of the novel’s greatest achievements.
Joe Goldberg himself was an incredibly polarizing character. Of course, he is the villain, but that is not all that makes him interesting. Seeing the story unravel through his eyes, Kepnes is able to create a vulnerability within Joe that almost makes you want to root for his success. Though Joe’s actions are disturbing and unhealthy, readers also get an insight into his character on an everyday basis. This creates a level of comfort that makes the reader see Joe as more of a morally grey character than a completely evil one. Joe’s perspective allows the reader to form an attachment to him and feel some empathy for him.
One thing people should be aware of before deciding to pick this up is that it is far more explicit than I had anticipated. Joe is a man who has formed an obsession for a beautiful woman, and the reader can certainly tell how he feels about that. That being said, if explicit thought processes and actions would disturb you, I do not suggest picking up this book. Also, be aware that this is a story about obsession, deception, and a character who will do anything to be with the woman he loves. There is criminal activity regularly involved in the plot. If you’re nervous about the content involved, I would suggest staying away from the book.
Whether you’re someone who has already watched the show or just someone that wants to read something a little creepy, I would suggest giving this a try. This book encompassed a lot of different genres and plot points like romance, fiction, suspense, and even had some thriller elements. For this reason, I think a wide variety of people would find something to love about this story.
If you have access, I would highly suggest listening to this book as an audiobook. Since Joe is talking directly to “you,” the story is so well suited for a physical narration and the audiobook was an excellent way to learn of Joe’s experiences.
This isn’t the scariest book and it’s plot isn’t overwhelmingly unique, but the stylistic choices by the author made it a memorable novel.
Carline Kepnes studied at Brown University where she received a degree in American Civilization. Aside from being an author, Kepnes is also a screenwriter and was once an entertainment reporter. “You” has one sequel already, titled “Hidden Bodies,” and another with an estimated release date of 2021. Kepnes also has two stand-alone works, outside of the “You” series.