51 pages 1 hour read

Colleen Hoover


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Confess is a contemporary romance novel by New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover. Hoover entered the romance scene in 2012 with her novel Slammed, and she had already published seven novels and multiple novellas by the time Confess hit shelves in 2015. Confess became a US and international bestseller and won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance in 2015. The book was produced into a seven-episode limited series starring Katie Leclerc and Ryan Cooper, which aired in 2017.

This guide refers to the 2015 Atria Books edition of Confess.

Content Warning: Confess contains scenes portraying addiction, sexual assault, and domestic violence. This guide also quotes and obscures the use of the F-word.

Plot Summary

The book opens when the protagonist, Auburn, is 16 years old. She is at the hospital in Dallas to say goodbye to her boyfriend and first love, Adam, who is dying from cancer. They express their eternal love for each other before Trey, Adam’s brother, pulls her away so she’ll make her flight back to Portland.

The narrative jumps forward and Auburn is now 20, alone and miserable in Dallas. She needs a lawyer but can’t afford one and acknowledges she’ll need a second job. She comes across a help-wanted sign at an art studio, and many confessions are posted next to it. Auburn knocks on the door and Owen, the artist, opens it and invites her inside. There is immediate chemistry between them. She learns that the anonymous confessions outside are the inspiration for his paintings. He hires her to work during the opening scheduled that evening. Afterward, he brings her to the bar where his best friend Harrison works and then walks her home.

Owen remembers Auburn from somewhere and thinks seeing her again feels like fate. Auburn wants to learn more about the confessions and his art, so they go back to his studio. They look at the confessions together, and she leaves one in the box. At her apartment, Owen sees a painting Adam painted for her. They make plans for the following night, but Owen stands her up.

Three weeks later, Auburn is at a restaurant on her birthday. Lydia, Adam’s mother, who takes care of Auburn and Adam’s son, AJ, stands her up, so she goes to Harrison’s bar and gets drunk. Harrison calls Owen to get her. She takes him to the salon where she works to cut his hair. She’s drunk, so she makes a lot of mistakes. She wakes the next morning in Owen’s bed, fully dressed, with a hangover. As she tries to leave, she hears Owen and his father arguing. Owen then tells her she has to fix his hair. They go to the salon, and Emory, Auburn’s roommate, gets Owen to admit that he’s moving on Monday. Emory suggests that Auburn and Owen spend the weekend together. Owen agrees, and Auburn reluctantly agrees too.

They shop for groceries, and he tells her to get herself a birthday present. She chooses a child’s tent, and they set it up in her apartment. With the mesh screen zipped in the middle, Auburn notes it’s like a confessional. She tells Owen to confess first, and he tells her he has only three phone numbers in his phone. She adds hers. He begins to tell her why he stood her up, but a knock at the door cuts him off.

Lydia arrives with AJ because she needs someone to watch him overnight. Auburn is thrilled. AJ goes into her bedroom and finds Owen in the tent. Owen tells him to keep it a secret, but Lydia sees him. Furious, she takes AJ and leaves. Auburn cries, and Owen holds her and tells her his story. When he was 16, he was in a car accident that killed his mother and older brother and put his father in a coma. He tells her that missing his mother feels like a fist to his heart. He says he can tell Auburn’s a good mother, which means everything to her.

They go to the kitchen to make a frozen pizza. As it’s cooking, they begin to kiss. Their passion is so strong that when they smell the pizza burning, they ignore it. The smoke alarm goes off, and they separate just as Trey arrives. Trey, who is now a cop, tells Auburn that Owen was arrested for possession the other night.  He tells Owen to leave and Auburn to never speak to him again. Auburn agrees but asks Trey to leave because she needs to be alone. After he’s gone, she finds a note from Owen asking her to come by his studio. When she does, he tries to explain he doesn’t use drugs, but she doesn’t know who to trust and has to do what’s best for AJ. He kisses her one last time.

As she’s walking home, Trey drives up and has her get in the car. He calls her stupid for seeing Owen again, so she gets out of the car, but Trey follows her. He asks her to consider being in a relationship with him, which would let her be with AJ all the time. She thinks the offer makes sense, but she doesn’t like Trey. Sunday is the standing weekly dinner at Lydia’s house. Auburn tells Lydia she wants more time with AJ, but Lydia doesn’t want her to mess with AJ’s routine. Auburn gets angry and yells; she’s never raised her voice with Lydia before. Trey takes Auburn to her apartment, and she’s glad that he doesn’t come inside. Owen’s cat is there, and Emory explains Owen dropped off the cat with a note earlier. In the note, he explains he has no one else to leave the cat with, and he expresses regret about the two of them.

The narrative flashes back to three weeks earlier, the night Owen and Auburn met. Owen gets a call from his father, Callahan, who says he needs help. Owen finds him with his car on the side of the road, drunk and probably high. Owen takes the wheel and drives his father home, but Trey pulls them over. Trey and Owen recognize each other, and Owen takes the fall for his father, claiming the pills in the car are his. His father could lose his law career if he admits the pills are his. Trey arrests Owen, and he can’t call Auburn to say he can’t make their date.

Owen has been in jail for 28 days. Auburn spends time with AJ and tries to convince herself to be with Trey. Trey brings her to her apartment, and they kiss. It’s nothing like the way Auburn feels when she kisses Owen. Trey tells her to lock her door because Owen has been released early. As soon as Trey leaves, Owen arrives at her door. She brings him to the tent, and they discuss her relationship with Trey. Owen then visits his father, who he finds passed out on the couch. He tells Cal about Auburn and that he lost her because he keeps enabling Cal. Owen dumps Cal’s pills down the kitchen sink and says seeing Auburn with AJ shows him how a parent should sacrifice for their child, not the other way around.

Auburn, Trey, and AJ shop at Target, and when Trey takes AJ to find a toy, Auburn runs into Owen. Trey comes back, puts a protective arm around Auburn, and leads her away. She can feel that Trey is furious. Once at the car, he shoves her and asks if she had sex with Owen. Owen and Auburn meet eyes across the parking lot, and they give each other the fist-to-the-heart sign they share.

Trey goes away for a conference, and Auburn goes by Owen’s studio. She’s left anonymous confessions there almost every day. This time, she writes a confession that Trey’s out of town. Owen arrives at the salon and asks Auburn for a haircut. He gives her a $50 bill, which she tries to refuse, but he leaves. She sees he wrote on the bill that he needs one last night with her. Auburn goes to his studio, and she can’t resist him. They make love. Before she leaves the next morning, she leaves a confession on his pillow saying she’ll think about that night forever. Owen does his best to deal with the grief of losing her by painting her. He does so all day, and when he’s done he goes to Harrison’s bar. When he returns to his studio, someone has destroyed his paintings. The painting of Auburn is untouched, but the confession she wrote that morning is gone.

Trey returns from his conference early and arrives at Auburn’s apartment. Owen texts her, warning that Trey broke into his studio and took the confession. Trey behaves strangely. They go to Auburn’s bedroom, and he sexually assaults her. Emory shows up holding Trey’s gun and tells him to get out. He agrees but tells Auburn he’s sorry. Auburn, frightened, tells him she’ll talk to him tomorrow. As soon as he leaves, Owen arrives, and she falls into his arms. He takes her to a hotel to keep her safe. They discuss what happened. At first, she says she has to forgive Trey, but slowly realizes she can’t be with Trey because he’s a bad person, and that’s not what she wants for AJ. She and Owen make love again.

The next day, Owen brings her to his apartment assuming it’s safe, but when Auburn goes inside, Trey grabs her. He gets Owen to hit him so he can arrest him. He reveals he planted contraband in Owen’s apartment. On the way to the station, he tells Auburn what to say so Owen will go to jail, and she can still get her time with AJ. Instead, she says nothing. Auburn goes to Cal’s house and asks for his help. They draft an order for Auburn to have full custody. When Lydia doesn’t take the order seriously, Auburn plays a recording of Trey confessing to planting the drugs and assaulting Auburn. Lydia knows she has no choice but to give up custody. Cal goes to the jail to tell Owen all charges have been dropped. Owen goes to Auburn’s apartment, and AJ is there. They embrace and kiss. He decides he will never tell Auburn about his connection to Adam’s painting on the wall because the confession of love that came with it is Adam’s.

The final chapter is a flashback to the hospital five years earlier. Owen is there because his father is in a coma. They were recently in a car accident that killed Owen’s mother and brother. He listens to and observes Auburn and Adam’s love for each other, and he’s moved by the way Auburn loves him. Lydia tries to discard Adam’s painting supplies, but Owen asks the nurse if he can have them. He paints for the first time: two hands clasped together. He brings the painting to Adam after Auburn leaves Dallas. Owen hopes he’s lucky enough to be loved the way Auburn loves Adam. Adam is dying, but he got to experience that kind of love while he was here. Adam asks Owen to send the painting to Auburn and to include a note about his love for her.

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