57 pages 1 hour read

Colleen Hoover

Too Late

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Too Late is a 2016 romance/psychological thriller by Colleen Hoover. Narrated in first person through various points of view, it tells the story of Sloan, Luke (whose undercover name is Carter), and their entanglements with the abusive drug dealer Asa Jackson. Hoover uses their story to explore themes of Love as a Source of Courage, Surviving Abusive Relationships, and Self-Worth and Empowerment.

Too Late was originally self-published by Hoover on Wattpad. It has become a bestseller that has received even more attention in the aftermath of her most successful novels. Too Late is an entry in the New Adult category, a genre marketed to young adults, which often contains storylines that focus on sex and relationships, familial dysfunction, and mental health.

This guide refers to the 2023 Grand Central Publishing Kindle edition of Too Late.

Content Warning: This guide discusses scenes of domestic and sexual abuse and substance addiction that feature in the source text. It also quotes the text’s use of derogatory language toward women.

Plot Summary

When the novel begins, Sloan meets Carter (an undercover police officer whose real name is Luke) in her college Spanish class, where they have instant chemistry. They flirt using a word game in which they try to write the most random sentences possible.

Carter’s obvious affection and warmth unsettles her. For two years, she has been in a relationship with Asa Jackson, an abusive drug dealer. Carter is trying to bust Asa’s drug ring, which is why he is on campus, three years after graduating. His partner, whose cover name is Dalton (real name Ryan), also works undercover and often attends Asa’s frequent house parties.

Sloan doesn’t want to be with Asa, but she finds herself unable to leave. She has a brother named Stephen, who has several diagnosed neurodivergent conditions, including autism. Sloan believes that Stephen is best off in a care home, rather than living with their mother, who has a drug addiction. When Stephen’s benefits are allegedly canceled—a ruse orchestrated by Asa—Sloan returns to Asa for help, after the first and only time she ever left him.

Carter quickly falls in love with Sloan, but Dalton cautions that he’s putting their operation at risk. Recklessly, Carter takes Sloan to lunch, and Asa tracks her location on his GPS. When she gets home, she pretends that she went alone, defusing the tension, but Asa’s paranoia continues to grow. At the same time, he begins using heroin. He remembers several instances from his childhood, including a time when his father, who has schizophrenia, abused him and another when his father killed his wife.

Worried that Sloan is going to leave him, and nurturing growing suspicions about Carter after Sloan says his name in her sleep, Asa proposes to Sloan while high and then forces her to accept, after which they have unprotected sex, which she has always been against. The next night, he forces Carter to make a toast to them at an engagement party.

Carter goes to visit Stephen with Sloan. Stephen bonds with Carter, although he has never shown interest in anyone but Sloan. While Carter and Sloan are visiting Stephen, Asa sees his father at a casino and learns that he has been out of prison for a year. Asa savagely beats his father. After assaulting his father, Asa’s drug use and paranoia increase.

From slips that Carter makes, such as giving away his real name but claiming it is his middle name, Sloan figures out that he is undercover. She confronts him with her knowledge, and he promises to help her get away. Sloan also confronts Asa after learning that Stephen’s benefits were never canceled. Asa faked it all to control Sloan.

Asa, suspicious of Carter, plans a deception to trap Carter, based on the movie Point Break. He hires men to pretend to be FBI agents and break in at a dinner party attended by Carter, Sloan, and Dalton. During the stunt, Carter tells the “agents” his real identity, Luke, confirming Asa’s suspicion that he is undercover. Asa torments him with the story of the first time he had sex with Sloan.

Later, upstairs, Asa kills one of the fake FBI agents when he finds him trying to assault Sloan. Asa takes Sloan downstairs, where Luke is handcuffed to a chair. Though Luke frees himself, Asa shoots him in the leg and chest, seriously wounding him. As Luke loses consciousness, he shoots Asa in the wrist, making him drop the gun. Dalton/Ryan and other officers break the door down and arrest Asa.

Luke survives, but Asa evades the case going to trial after he claims that he killed the pretend FBI agent and shot Luke in self-defense. Asa has also been faking the symptoms of schizophrenia, which he intended to use as a back-up to avoid jail if the self-defense claims were rejected. Asa reflects that people thinking he has schizophrenia might come in useful in future, hinting that he still intends to harm Luke and Sloan.

Luke and Sloan stay at an apartment that is meant to act as a safehouse, but Asa threatens Ryan by claiming that he has taken Tillie (another undercover officer) and has someone watching Ryan’s sister too: Asa says that he will kill both of them unless Ryan takes him to Luke and Sloan. Ryan complies, and Asa is shot during a confrontation with Luke. It transpires that Asa lied about having the means to kill either Tillie or Ryan’s sister; he was bluffing all along. Police arrive and arrest Asa.

Asa is placed under house arrest while he awaits trial. Meanwhile, Sloan learns that she is pregnant, and Luke vows to love her and the baby, even though they both know that Asa is more likely to be the biological father. The couple live at another safehouse, and Sloan works on a cookbook to benefit survivors of domestic abuse.

Despite his house arrest, Asa hires a man named Anthony to find and surveil Sloan. Anthony manages to find her, and Asa, watching Anthony’s surveillance footage, sees that Sloan is pregnant. He agonizes over whether he or Luke is the biological father and vows revenge if he’s not. Asa then manages to remove his electronic tag and bribes a maintenance man to leave a window in Sloan and Luke’s safehouse open, which he uses to enter the rear of the property, thus avoiding detection by Luke’s surveillance guy, who is stationed at the front.

Asa finds Sloan alone, and though he had resolved to punish her for leaving him, she pretends she still loves him, and he forgives her. Asa forces Sloan to wait for Luke to get home so that he can take revenge on him for what he sees as “stealing” Sloan.

Luke realizes something is up when the surveillance guy doesn’t report that Sloan took the trash out at midday, which is her signal that everything is all right. Luke makes it back to the safehouse and shoots Asa through the window before climbing in and killing him with a second shot.

Sloan and Luke attend Asa’s funeral, which Sloan finds cathartic.

Seven months later, Sloan and Luke are a family; they have named Sloan’s baby boy Dalton. Sloan bought a paternity test in case Luke was bothered by not knowing whether he was the baby’s father, but Luke doesn’t want to take the test: In all the ways that matter, Dalton is his son.

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