45 pages 1 hour read

Caroline Kepnes


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


You is a 2014 thriller novel written by New York Times bestselling author Caroline Kepnes. The story is narrated by Joe Goldberg, a bookstore employee who develops an obsession with an aspiring writer named Beck. The title, You, alludes to the narrator’s obsession; the entire narrative is addressed to Beck in the second person. The novel and its sequels were adapted into a television series of the same name. This guide uses the 2014 Atria Books eBook.

Plot Summary

Joe Goldberg works in a bookstore in New York City. One day, a young woman named Beck enters the store. She immediately attracts Joe’s attention. After their short interaction, he develops an obsession with Beck. He learns her name and researches everything he can about Beck on the Internet. She is an aspiring writer at college in New York. Joe follows Beck to a bar and lingers nearby, listening to her friends. He lurks outside her apartment and watches her through her open curtains. When her boyfriend, Benji, visits her apartment, Joe develops an intense dislike for him. Joe breaks into Beck’s apartment and is nearly caught, exiting quickly through a window when she returns home.

Beck reads one of her short stories at an event in a bar. Joe follows her to the bar and watches her with her friends. They drink heavily, and, later that night, he stands near her on a subway platform. Beck slips onto the tracks, and Joe helps her back on to the platform. They share a taxi back to Beck’s apartment, where she thanks him for saving her life. They are greeted by an unimpressed, arrogant Benji. Joe steals Beck’s phone, though she assumes it is lost.

Joe uses Beck’s phone to read her private emails. His hatred for Benji deepens. He tries to position himself as Beck’s perfect boyfriend, using her private communications to tailor his behavior exactly to what she wants. Beck and Joe go on a date, and, though they have some chemistry, she is never as committed as he is, so Joe decides he needs to remove Benji from the equation. Joe kidnaps Benji and locks him in a cage beneath the bookstore. The cage is an airtight, soundproof storage unit for rare books. For several weeks, Joe keeps Benji locked in the cage. He uses Benji’s phone to construct an elaborate ruse, posing as Benji and writing messages that make it seem as though Benji’s substance use has become a more serious issue. When Beck still seems reluctant to commit to the idea of Joe as her boyfriend, Joe kills Benji and burns his body.

Joe decides that Beck’s friend Peach is a problem. Peach comes from a very rich family, and she looks down on Joe, who grew up poor and did not attend college. Whenever Joe tries to arrange a date with Beck, Peach intervenes and insists that Beck visit her. Joe disbelieves the mental health problems that Peach claims to have. He believes that Peach is obsessed with Beck, just like he is. Her patronizing, intrusive behavior annoys him. At the same time, Beck appreciates Peach’s attention and enjoys taking advantage of Peach’s wealth. During a period when Beck seems to constantly be with Peach, Joe follows Peach on one of her morning runs. He attacks her and leaves her for dead, but she survives. Unfortunately for Joe, Beck spends more time with Peach, and she recovers in hospital.

After leaving the hospital, Peach invites Beck to her family’s beach house in Rhode Island. Joe—still spying on all of Beck’s private emails—believes that Beck misses him. He decides to follow Peach and Beck to Rhode Island so that he will be nearby when Beck inevitably decides to contact him. However, a disgruntled ex-employee of the bookstore rushes into the store with his friends, and they beat Joe to a pulp. Nursing his wounds, Joe drives to Rhode Island. With the snow limiting his visibility and his eye nearly swollen shut, he hits a deer and crashes his car. Injured and bleeding, Joe stumbles into Peach’s boathouse and stays there for the night. A police officer finds him the next morning and, taking pity on Joe, gives him a ride to the hospital. Joe gives the police officer and the doctors a fake name. After having his wounds treated, he pretends to catch a [ride] to New York. In reality, he returns to Peach’s beach house and watches Beck and Peach through the windows.

Joe watches Peach and Beck. One day, he breaks into the beach house while the two women are out running. When they return home, he is almost caught. He must hide in a closet and wait until they are distracted. Just as he is about to escape the house, he sees Peach touching Beck in a sexual manner. Beck tells her to stop, and Peach is offended. Joe leaves the house as Beck tries to apologize to Peach. The next day, Peach goes for a run alone. Joe attacks her, kills her, and places her body in the sea with her pockets weighed down with rocks. He uses her phone to pretend that she has gone away on vacation. Later, her death is announced as a suicide. Without Peach, Beck returns to Joe, and their relationship becomes more intense than ever. For the first time, Joe is happy.

Beck becomes distant from Joe, and he does not understand why. He becomes convinced that her therapist, Dr. Nicky, is causing problems. Using a fake name, Joe visits Nicky, who tries to help Joe. While playing along with Nicky, Joe has a brief relationship with a woman named Karen Minty. Joe never abandons his obsession with Beck. During his sessions with Nicky, he finds Nicky’s private client files. He discovers that Nicky is also obsessed with Beck and that he is preparing to leave his wife and children for her. Beck tries to break off her affair with Nicky, who calls her selfish and blames her for ruining his marriage. She returns to Joe.

One day, Beck offers to cook a meal in Joe’s apartment. While there, she discovers his hidden trove of items he stole from her apartment. She is horrified by the underwear and the private emails that he printed out and glued into a book. When Beck accuses Joe of being disturbed, he tries to calm her down. Becoming frustrated, he knocks her out and takes her to the cage where he imprisons her for several days. He forces her to endure a series of tasks that are meant to repair their broken relationship. Beck pretends that Joe is having his desired effect. She seduces him, and, while he is distracted, she tries to escape from the bookstore. She cannot get through the locked door, and Joe confronts her. They fight, and Joe kills Beck. He buries her outside of the city and frames Dr. Nicky for the murder. Joe continues to think about Beck until an attractive young woman enters the store, looking for a job. Joe switches his attention to Amy Adam, suggesting that his obsession will repeat itself. 

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By Caroline Kepnes