Adult Fiction Books contemporary fiction horror mystery thriller

Does Joe Goldberg’s charm and charisma in “You” overshadow the book’s dark warning?

Caroline KepnesYou is the story that took the world by a storm. The dark, thriller novel has turned into the highly grossed series on Netflix where Penn Badgley brings to life the charming but dangerous Joe Goldberg.

You is one of the most thrilling and addictive novels that I have ever read: it pulls you in with this false sense of security that it could be a lovely romance story, but then Joe’s madness and psychotic nature slowly reveals itself and you start to question your own sanity. Who are you rooting for? Whose side are you on? And, most importantly, are we actually starting to understand and excuse some of his behaviour?

When a beautiful aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

Debut author Caroline Kepnes delivers a razor-sharp novel for our hyper-connected digital age.


Kepnes’ novel is not for the fainthearted, but for the lovers of twisted horror. It touches on the potential insanity of the human psyche, reminds us that we all have good and bad inside us, and shows us that none of us are far from crossing that line.

Joe is a… complicated character. I won’t lie, I completely fell in love with him at first. The first chapter of You was written so cleverly and it had me hooked. I loved the way Joe processed information and was able to read people. He picked up everything about a person, from the way they dressed, to the way they held themselves, the words they said and the things they responded to. It was fascinating being inside his mind. And the thing that got me was the fact that even though he was like this with everyone, he was especially this way with Beck, the girl he would inevitably want to be with. She was special to him, even though he could read almost everyone, she was the one who stood out.

As the book went on, we saw him kill people, hurt people, stalk Back, stalk her friends, break into apartments, steal, and lie. But still, so many of us that have read the novel and watched the series rooted for Joe. We still liked him. Why? How can we still actually like this guy?

I think this was done deliberately, because each of us has a part in us that identifies with him. The part of us that feels hard done by, the part of us that blames the victim, that is blind to the negative and bad and toxic traits of our own. We are meant to identify with that. It’s meant to open our eyes.

We are not, however, meant to fall in love with Joe. Once we see him and his narcissistic tendencies, we’re meant to be horrified by him. Horrified by his actions and decisions. But most of us aren’t.

Most people watch it and read it and take to social media to talk about how much they love Joe and Beck as a couple. People have missed the entire point of this book. With Joe’s charm and charisma, and people’s inability to recognise the toxicity in his relationship with Beck, the message in You became kind of lost.

Kepnes was using You to get across and very real and terrifying warning about today’s society that most people have completely missed, which is this: social media has a very scary and alarming role in our connections with other people and leaves us incredibly vulnerable to stalking and manipulation. Not to mention that social media has cemented completely wrong ideals about romantic relationships, which has increased the amount of control and jealousy that exists between partners. Today’s society has deemed this acceptable, which in turn increases the possibility of danger and abuse that people face in relationships.

In today’s age, people have confused possessiveness with love as well as the fact that how jealous you are equates to how much you care about and love your partner. This is completely damaging. It’s completely toxic. It makes us rationalise things like going through your partner’s phone or throwing a fit when they spend time with the opposite sex, or wanting to know where they are every minute and who they’re spending time with.

With the unhelpful help of social media, we have become convinced that breaking trust, controlling our partners, getting jealous and online stalking (no matter how slight) is OK, and even acceptable, if it’s done for love. This misrepresentation and our acceptance of it, are partly to blame for our unhealthy views of relationships today.

We’re meant to identify with Joe, but we’re not meant to love him, and his actions are meant to horrify us so that come the end of the novel we become more aware of these toxic traits. He is meant to open our eyes so we can recognise similar red flags and warning signs in people in real life and end this abuse and misuse of trust and love.

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