Cover for Megan Thompson's article on comparing between "You" the book vs the netflix show

Reading Caroline Kepnes’ ‘You,’ I Found Myself Closer to Joe Than Ever Before

The original novel behind the Netflix series leaves fans intrigued and captivated by the modern-day Ted Bundy.
January 19, 2020
7 mins read

With the Netflix series “You” gaining more popularity as Season 2 hits the platform, I became interested in discovering the drama’s origins. Knowledgeable of its start on Lifetime, I wanted to dig deeper. And what better way than to read the novel by Caroline Kepnes?

The psychological thriller was written in September of 2014 and gained immediate praise for its unsettling nature and raw attention to detail. However, it seems as if the series may have taken its own twist on Kepnes’ novel. So how does it compare?

Meet Joe Goldberg from “You”

Both the Netflix series and the book take the approach of using Joe’s perspective as the main source of narration. Viewers are given a firsthand look into the mind of the so-called “nice guy.” Kepnes’ novel is where this technique is first explored, but in a much creepier way.

After watching Season 1 of “You” and reading the original book, I noticed that Netflix tried to mellow out Joe’s personality significantly. For example, in the novel, the language used by Joe while watching Beck in her apartment is much more vulgar than that in the TV adaptation. Talk of heavy sexual encounters and having full control over Beck’s life are common fantasies for Joe.

Speaking of vulgar language, Joe really loves watching Beck “take it on her green pillow.” If you’re familiar with the series, then you know what I mean. Unlike the Netflix adaptation, he focuses a lot of attention on this fact in the novel, dedicating entire pages to his thoughts on this past time of Beck’s. Who does that?

Let’s also talk about how beloved Paco doesn’t exist. If you don’t know who Paco is, he is the young boy who lives across the hall from Joe and is abused by his mother’s boyfriend. Yes, Netflix completely made up the young boy. I believe that this was done in an attempt to soften Joe’s personality and make him more likable for the viewers. Truly though, I don’t believe that they should have done this. Reading the book, I found myself much more shocked by his personality.

Without trying to give any spoilers for those who haven’t watched the series or read the novel, I’ll mention that Candace’s fate in the book is quite permanent. While making a reappearance at the end of the first season and again in Season 2 of the Netflix series, the end of Kepnes‘ novel does not end so positively for Joe’s ex-lover.

The Reincarnation of Ted Bundy

Speaking of his personality, Joe in Kepnes’ novel is literally a modern-day Ted Bundy. What do I mean by this? Well, I mean exactly what it sounds like. Following girls after forming unhealthy obsessions, creating elaborate lies and having a double life parallels the fictional character to the real serial killer.

As someone who has watched “Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” I’ve noticed the parallels between Bundy and Joe. Yes, there are similarities between the two when it comes to the “You” TV adaption, but the comparison resonates strongest in the book.

It seems that Kepnes intentionally made this comparison in her novel. To begin, Joe’s appearance is described as devilishly handsome and appears to not have trouble with the ladies. Sound familiar? Let’s not forget to mention how he has a concerning amount of knowledge when it comes to creating believable lies.

However, the comparison between the serial killer and the fictional bookseller really shines through at the end of Kepnes’ novel. Readers learn that Beck had an idea that Joe was following her after she noticed him at her poetry reading. What did she do about it? Nothing at all. In fact, Beck thought it was attractive. It seems to be suggesting that this was because Beck was physically attracted to him. If that’s the case, then it stays true to how it was so easy for Bundy to attach himself to many of his young victims.

Is it a flop?

After reading Kepnes’ novel that started the Netflix hit series, I discovered that I much rather preferred the book. Yes, I am a huge fan of the screen adaption, but the publication is a new and wildly different experience. I found myself turning the pages at a high rate of speed as I couldn’t consume Joe’s words fast enough. Finishing in less than a week, I am already craving Kepnes’ sequel, “Hidden Bodies.” That’s right, there’s a sequel and Season 2 is loosely based on it.

If the second novel is anything like the first, then I believe it would be worth the time to read. There is something unique and captivating about the way that Kepnes stylizes the novel and uses Joe’s voice and perspective to the fullest extent. While I am a fan of the Netflix series and I do plan to keep watching, I recommend the book for anyone trying to get closer to Joe than ever before.

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