Ideally, reading a novel will be an engaging and engrossing experience – an escape from the real world, and yet, still a stimulating reflection upon that world. It is less common, but even more thrilling, to discover a book that becomes all-consuming – a book that will not release its hold on you, even when you are not actively reading it. When that happens, it’s magic. You, by Caroline Kepnes, is exactly that type of book. The main character, Joe Goldberg, practically defies you to stop reading and when you must, he makes it impossible for you to stop thinking about him.
It is no accident that Joe Goldberg is about as mundane and generic a name as one can think of. Joe is an everyman: he is the neighbor across the street, the co-worker at your lunch table; he is your boyfriend, your tax preparer, or your bookstore clerk. And because he is so run-of-the-mill, Caroline Kepnes is able to manipulate you, the reader, and scare the living hell out of you. Let us not forget, Joe is also bat-shit crazy.
You is the story of a stalker. Structurally unassuming, it is told completely from the vantage point of the stalker. You is totally believable. You is addictive, You is creepy. And You is not easily forgotten.
Caroline Kepnes starts her novel in the most simple of ways. In the first chapter, Joe Goldberg meets Guinevere Beck. When she walks into his bookstore, he is immediately drawn to her and becomes obsessed. As the reader, you will immediately be off-kilter, but not for the reason you might suspect. Since you are only seeing things from Joe’s perspective, you will find yourself understanding and accepting his obsession, even as your rational mind is telling you that it is wrong and inappropriate. That is the power of Caroline Kepnes’ writing style.
Beck, as she comes to be called, is a fascinating character. She is both naïve and calculating – two traits that would seem to be diametrically opposed, but which coexist in a strange harmony within Beck’s mind. As the reader learns more about her, again filtered through Joe, the complex girl Joe is infatuated with comes fully alive on the page. The roller-coaster relationship of these two distinct individuals makes for an incredible reading experience.
As Caroline Kepnes takes the reader further and further into the raw and uncensored thoughts of a psychotic stalker, Joe’s voice embeds itself deep within the reader’s mind. Joe has the unique ability to rationalize and justify all of his actions and it is no mistake that Caroline Kepnes never provides easy answers. Love is complex, but lust is irrational; and obsession is…well, obsession is dangerous.
Pop culture references abound in You. After reading this novel, simple things like Twizzlers, Titanic, Prince songs, The DaVinci Code and Pitch Perfect will never be the same. But it is not solely because they are mentioned in the story, but because they become a part of Joe’s psychosis. It is a demonstration of Caroline Kepnes’ skill as an author that each cultural reference feels as though it is the only one that could work in any given situation – these are not random references used to ground the story in a precise time, but rather specific choices used to characterize Joe.
It is impossible to explain the insidious nature of Caroline Kepnes’ story. You is very much a novel of today. Joe uses every social media technique available to taunt and terrorize Beck – but it is just good old-fashioned storytelling that is this author’s true weapon. Read You as soon as possible, before Joe Goldberg realizes that you are neglecting him.
Scheduling Update: Stop back at BOLO Books tomorrow for an enlightening and entertaining interview with the wonderful Caroline Kepnes.
_____________________________________________________________________ Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher (at BookExpo America). No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.