Do you believe in love at first sight?
What happens when that supposed love turns sinister, obsessive, and deadly?
Caroline Kepnes tackles the psychological and obsessive nature of stalkers in her 2014 book, “You,” the first book of her series. Four years after the book’s debut, Netflix adapted it and its sequels into a binge-worthy series starring Penn Badgley and Elizabeth Lail.
As of 2023, Netflix is showcasing its fourth season, chronicling Joe’s departure to a new setting. Much like its previous seasons, depictions of violence and abuse are portrayed. Viewers should remember this before starting the series or reading the book.
‘You’ by Caroline Kepnes Summary
‘You’ starts in New York City with Guinevere Beck, or “Beck,” an aspiring writer working as a teaching assistant while working on her thesis. After entering the East Village bookstore, she meets Joe Goldberg, the handsome shop owner who immediately falls in love with her. Through Joe’s eyes, Beck is his dream woman. With her beauty and smarts making her his ideal, Joe can’t help but be utterly captivated.
As the relationship progresses, Beck realizes there is something more to Joe than what meets the eye. On the other hand, Joe also comes to terms with the fact that Guinevere is more than the woman of his dreams. As their mutual obsession grows over time, their dynamic ensnares various other people into the midst, leading it into something deadly.
What Makes ‘You’ a Worthwhile Read?
Clever, chilling, and a psychological look into the mind of obsession, ‘You’ has garnered many fans due to its fearless depiction and narrative style. While the You Netflix series has remarkable points, reading Joe’s thoughts and actions on paper is more unsettling than watching it as a viewer.
It also doesn’t help that Kepnes wrote the book in a second person POV, making it look like the reader is the receiver of Joe’s unbridled obsession as he recounts Guinevere’s daily life. This stylistic choice may seem uncomfortable, but that’s the point—you’re supposed to feel uncomfortable.
Kepnes also does an excellent job of peppering in the seductive elements of Joe’s manipulation. This subtle style keeps readers on their toes, and as they read, one can’t help but feel that something is not quite right.
Stalking and obsession are complex topics to talk about, much less write about, yet Kepnes does it in a way that is somehow bold yet clandestine. Much like there’s more to an iceberg than its visible surface, ‘You’ and its sequels have more than what meets the eye. You never knew it hit you because it left before you could even take notice.
‘You’ is also addictive because it keeps you guessing. While we certainly have access to Joe’s thoughts, we are still left in the dark about his next move. Joe controls the narrative, he calls the shots, and only he knows precisely how it’ll all play out. He is unpredictable, volatile, and prone to violence. Yet, he’s so seemingly normal to many that it’s hard to hate him outright.
Whatever Kepnes did, she makes it a point that while it’s easy to hate the criminal, there are parts of his character that we can’t help but find kinship with. While rational readers understand that Joe’s personality and traits are glaring warning signs, there will always be vulnerable people who fall easy to his charm.
Perhaps the reason why ‘You’ is so addicting is that anyone can be vulnerable to stalking and manipulation. No matter how smart or accomplished you are, you will always have a weak spot that anyone can use to their advantage. Despite Beck being relatively intelligent and put-together, Joe’s mask is so well-crafted that if this book were written from Guinevere’s point-of-view, we would undoubtedly succumb to his charms too.
‘You’ points out this uncomfortable truth so plainly: Anyone can fall victim to stalking and manipulation. Despite armoring ourselves with readily accessible information via the web, there is no guarantee that a master manipulator cannot bypass such measures.
In fact, according to the United States Department of Justice stalking statistics in 2019, at least 1.3% of American residents between the ages of 16 and up are victims of stalking. That’s assuming, of course, that these are the ones reported and taken seriously. Considering stalking is challenging to pinpoint and track, many police departments worldwide often dismiss a victim’s worries, only interfering when it’s too late.
In today’s modern world, there is no doubt we would benefit from holding ourselves back from willingly sharing our data so freely. While it’s unreasonable to ask someone to delete their TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter, teaching them due diligence is no harm. This step means avoiding giving your complete name to strangers, ‘checking in’ locations publicly and providing real-time updates on your whereabouts. By all means, stay connected, but never be careless. It’s for your own good.