You by Caroline Kepnes
You is a novel–the first in a series–told from the perspective of a young man named Joe Goldberg. Joe lives in New York City, manages a bookstore, and falls in love one day with a girl named Beck. Quickly, Joe’s love becomes obsession as he stalks Beck in person and online, trying to learn everything about her so he can orchestrate their lives together. He slowly discovers more and more about Beck’s life that he doesn’t like, that gets in his way, and desperately attempts to reassert control over her.
You by Netflix
The first season of You on Netflix features Joe Goldberg, a young man in New York City working at a bookstore and occasionally caring for a boy in his building, Paco. He encounters a girl named Beck and begins to obsess over her, trying to find a way to orchestrate their relationship. And then things really get out of hand.
What did they change?
Interestingly, despite the fact that this book is quite literally about a bad person, the changes the show made were primarily to make the characters more likable. Not just Joe, either, they made Beck a little sweeter, a little cuter, and a little less of a stuck up asshole. Joe is far from redeemable in the show, but is still humanized a bit more. He’s portrayed as friendlier with his coworker, he’s got a bit of a mentorship going on with Paco and a clear soft spot for fellow abused kids. His relationship with Mooney in the past is given a bit more screentime and it’s implied Mooney is dead now (he’s still alive in the book, and Joe goes to see him a couple times).
Joe is made a little more human, I think. In the book, this is largely done during the portion where he visits Beck’s therapist as a way of finding out about her, and he temporarily takes the therapist’s advice and seems to get his shit together for a little while. In the show, this is done more visibly and more immediately with the introduction of Paco. There are a few other changes here and there that take away Joe’s extremes in emotion sometimes. The Dickens festival, for example, leads to his and Beck’s relationship improving. In the book, when Joe fears he’s been discovered, he goes into an emotional spiral, convinced that Beck will believe he’s a stalker and never be with him again.
For Beck’s part, in the show she’s a lot more likable. She’s sweet, despite being surrounded by stuck up assholes, and down to earth. She has some talent for writing and is simply drowning with her responsibilities. In the book, she’s entitled and hates working. She thinks that she deserves the opportunities she’s been given, but doesn’t value the hard work she needs to put in to continue succeeding. She resents others in her writing courses when they don’t like her works despite valid criticism, and she’s constantly mistreating her friends and Joe (if he weren’t a stalker, she would’ve been a pretty rude ghoster). She’s not a good, nice, or particularly interesting person in the book.
What did they portray well?
I think the show definitely could’ve overcorrected Joe a bit too much and made him too sympathetic. I’m glad that the majority of viewers completely understand that Joe’s behavior is unacceptable and creepy, even before he starts breaking some major laws and making horrible impacts on others’ lives. A lot of the plot points and details of the novel were portrayed in the show. Beck’s apartment, how she got it, and just about everything about her life is the same. Her relationships with Peach and Benji especially, and her relationship with her father is mostly the same. How she and Joe meet, re-meet, and much of their relationship is also similar to the show.
What did they get wrong?
I’m actually a little disappointed about the changes they made to Beck. I get that the more likable she is, the more we’ll dislike Joe for his stalking, but I don’t think Beck needed to be made into a nicer person than she really was. His behavior is deplorable regardless of Beck’s own personality, and in fact I felt the impact more strongly when I realized he’d romanticized a version of her to fall in love with.
I watched the show before reading the book, and I can still say that I enjoyed each separately. Perhaps the big difference is that after reading from Joe’s perspective I don’t have any desire to continue. Kepnes is a master at sucking you into Joe’s awful thinking, and it was overwhelming at times. I don’t know if I’m comfortable continuing to read from his perspective, especially since the show allows you to watch him without being constantly surrounded by his thoughts. Perhaps if Netflix pulls a fast one on us and never releases another season of You I’ll finish the books because I do want to know what happens next. I’d also love to read other works by Kepnes because I admire her writing, I just… get freaked out by Joe haha. If you’re made of stronger stuff, I recommend getting into the book especially if you enjoyed the show like I did!