42 pages 1 hour read

Colleen Hoover

It Starts with Us

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2022

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Summary and Study Guide


It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover chronicles the rekindled romance between lost lovers and childhood friends Lily Bloom and Atlas Corrigan. Published in 2022, It Starts With Us is the sequel to Hoover’s popular 2016 novel It Ends With Us, a New York Times best seller, winner of the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance, and an upcoming film. Written from the alternating perspectives of both Lily and Atlas, It Starts With Us explores the complexities of divorce, domestic violence, and trauma. 

This guide was written using the 2022 Atria Books Kindle edition of It Starts With Us.

Plot Summary

It Starts With Us begins in the moments following Lily Bloom and Atlas Corrigan’s unexpected reunion on the streets of Boston. Reeling from his encounter with his first love, Atlas returns to one of his restaurants to investigate a case of vandalism that has occurred. Upon seeing the vandal has stolen food, Atlas empathizes with the mysterious stranger and decides not to call the police. While at the restaurant, he eagerly awaits a text from Lily.

At work, Lily struggles to concentrate after her run-in with Atlas. As a survivor of domestic violence, Lily worries about her abusive ex-husband Ryle’s reaction to her dating again. She and Ryle co-parent their young daughter, Emerson. Overwhelmed by this train of thought, Lily delays reaching out to Atlas. Back at his restaurant, Atlas confides in his coworker’s son, Theo, about his dilemma with Lily. After following Theo’s advice to text Lily, Atlas is disappointed by Lily’s short response.

Lily returns home that evening and discovers her ex-husband in her home. Frustrated by his lack of boundaries, Lily requests Ryle return her key. The two argue over Lily’s refusal to allow Ryle to keep their daughter overnight, and she worries about Ryle’s uncontrollable temper.

The next morning, Atlas discovers his other restaurant vandalized. Shortly thereafter, he receives an unexpected phone call from his estranged mother. He hangs up on her and blocks her number. Atlas surprises Lily at her florist shop with lunch, reaching out once again in an attempt at communication. When Ryle arrives without notice, Lily hides Atlas. To avoid further confrontation with Ryle, they agree to speak over the phone later that evening. When Atlas calls, he asks Lily out on a date, and she agrees. Lily shares with Atlas her concerns over Ryle’s hatred of Atlas due to his discovery of their previous relationship as teenagers. After Atlas requests it incessantly, Lily reads him a portion of her teenage journals.

The next day, Atlas cleans up after a third night of vandalism at one of his restaurants, and in the days that follow, he and Lily continue to talk on the phone. When the day of their date arrives, Lily leaves her daughter with her friend and Emerson’s aunt, Allysa, but she falls asleep on the drive to their date. Atlas allows Lily to sleep and reads from another journal she gifted him instead. Inspired by Lily’s journals, Atlas writes Lily a note about his history before meeting Lily and shares it with her when she wakes up. After their date, Lily returns to Allysa’s house to pick up Emerson and discovers Ryle there. Ryle confronts Lily about their daughter’s name, which was inspired by the movie Finding Nemo. Ryle is aware of the movie’s significance to Lily and Atlas as teenagers; he grows aggressive and storms off.

Atlas’s mother, Sutton, appears unannounced at his work and informs Atlas that he has an 11-year-old brother named Josh who is missing. Atlas grows frustrated at his mother’s lack of concern for the boy and her preoccupation with the potential legal trouble she faces if Josh does not return. Shortly after, Atlas receives a phone call from an upset Lily, and he rushes to her. Lily gives Atlas the next journal to read; later that evening, Atlas reads Lily’s journal and awaits the appearance of the vandal. When the vandal appears, Atlas confronts him and discovers it is his brother, Josh, who has been vandalizing Atlas’s businesses for attention. Protective of Josh, Atlas feeds him and invites him to stay with him. The next morning, Atlas calls his mother on the advice of his lawyer, and she orders Atlas to return Josh. Upon returning Josh to his mother, Atlas witnesses Sutton abusing Josh and takes him back to his home.

Days later, Atlas brings Lily lunch again, and she invites him to a wedding. On the day of the wedding, Atlas picks up Lily and helps her get dressed. He notices Lily’s heart-shaped tattoo near her shoulder, and she reveals that he is the inspiration for the tattoo. Lily and Atlas kiss for the first time as adults. After the wedding, they have sex, and afterward, they discuss their past. Lily falls asleep, and Atlas leaves her a letter and returns home to Josh. The next morning, Ryle awakens Lily by pounding on her apartment door. Upon discovering the evidence of Lily’s night with Atlas, he pushes Lily. Afraid for her and her daughter’s safety, Lily picks up her daughter from her mother and escapes to Atlas’s home.

At Atlas’s home, Lily and Atlas become an official couple and discuss Lily’s custody battle with Ryle. Lily receives a series of verbally abusive text messages from Ryle in the days following his outburst, and eventually, he shows up to her work. When he arrives, Lily informs him of her intention to speak with a lawyer about his custody of Emerson. Ryle storms off to Atlas’s restaurant, and Lily calls to warn Atlas.

When Ryle arrives at Atlas’s restaurant, he immediately punches Atlas, who does not fight back. Atlas attempts to calm Ryle down and reason with him, but Ryle storms off. Later that night, Atlas meets with Lily and comforts her. A few days later at Emerson’s birthday party, Ryle attempts to approach Lily, but she refuses to speak to him alone. After Allysa offers to babysit, Lily spends the night with Atlas and shares her idea to stage an intervention for Ryle with the support of his sister and brother-in-law. Afterward, they discuss their timelines for living together and marriage.

The next morning, Atlas’s mother arrives at his home and demands to take Josh with her, but Josh refuses to leave and expresses his desire to live with his estranged father in Vermont. Atlas drives Josh to Vermont later that day to see his father, but after observing his father at a distance and learning about his father’s abuse of Atlas as a child, Josh decides not to reunite with his father. Later that evening, Lily meets with Ryle and his family and informs Ryle that he must attend anger management classes and have supervised visits with his daughter. To Lily’s surprise, he begrudgingly agrees. At his restaurant, Atlas prepares dinner for his mother and asks her to relinquish her parental rights to Josh. He thanks her for her work as a single mother and invites her to join him and Josh for family dinners every week. She agrees.

Six months later, Atlas writes Lily a letter asking her to move in with him, and she accepts. On move-in day, Ryle arrives to drop off Emerson; despite his anger, the drop-off goes smoothly, much to Lily’s relief. A year and a half later, Atlas prepares for his wedding day with Lily. He reviews his vows and includes a reference to Finding Nemo and commits himself fully to Lily.

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