You: A Breakdown of Every Twisted Thing That Happens in the Book
Caroline Kepnes's bestselling thriller You has made its way to the small screen, and it's just as unsettling as its book counterpart. The series stars Penn Badgley as Joe, a New York City bookstore manager who becomes more and more obsessed with a young woman, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), who comes into his store one day. Over the course of a few months, Joe's obsession with Beck reaches horrifying heights, resulting in things like breaking and entering, stealing underwear, and even murder.
Badgley's version of Joe may not quite come off as menacing as the character in Kepnes's story — likely because he doesn't have a cute little neighbor to take care of in the book, which helps humanize him — but the psycho stalker lurking within him is definitely still there. If you're interested in finding out how the story unfolds in the book, keep reading. But be warned: spoilers on spoilers ahead!
Joe Meets Beck
Like in the show, Joe meets Beck, a writer in grad school, when she comes into the bookstore where he works in New York City. As she checks out with her purchases, they make playful banter and she pays with a credit card. To Joe, this means she deliberately wants him to know her full name — Guinevere Beck — because otherwise she would've paid with cash. Of course, since the story is told entirely from Joe's perspective, there's a lot more language of him graphically describing and objectifying Beck's appearance (specifically her lack of a bra).
By searching her name online, he's able to find all of her public social media profiles, which leads him to discover who all of her friends are and even where she lives. He spends days standing on the stoop opposite her ground-floor apartment in the West Village watching her every move, going so far as to buy disguises from a thrift store so neighbors don't realize the same guy is standing there day after day. Eventually he gets into her apartment by calling a false gas leak into the city and posing as her boyfriend, and he's able to find out a bunch more about her by searching through her laptop.
After reading a few of her emails, he finds out she's reading a new story she's written at a bar in Brooklyn and shows up there. He doesn't approach her but later follows her out to the subway (she's alone and very drunk), where she slips and falls onto the tracks. He saves her and they share a cab back to her place, but she gets out alone to meet her on-again, off-again hookup, Benji. What she doesn't realize is that Joe slipped her phone into his pocket in the cab and now has access to her every move.
By tracking her likes, dislikes, and whereabouts, Joe is able to slowly but surely manipulate Beck into a romantic relationship with him. She's never fully on board, always cutting things off just as they start to get serious, which only serves to further fuel Joe's obsession with making her his.
Benji Gets a Nasty Surprise
Benji is around for quite some time in the book. He's as douchey as they come and a wealthy former drug addict who cofounded an organic club soda company called "Home Soda." It's clear he's just using Beck for sex, but it's also clear that she has genuine feelings for him that aren't going away anytime soon. That spells out a pretty big problem for Joe, who now can read all Beck's emails back and forth to her friends because he has her phone (she doesn't tell her mom it went missing because she doesn't want to get in trouble, so the cell remains active).
As he continues to stalk Beck's every move — standing outside her apartment, following her and her friends to the bar — he gradually formulates a plan to take Benji out. He lures Benji to the bookstore under the guise that he's a Vulture food critic interested in reviewing Home Soda and doses a drink he gives Benji with a drug that knocks him out. When Benji wakes up, Joe has dragged him into the bookstore's completely soundproofed basement, where a large "cage" is set up — it's essentially a small, clear room within the basement where first-edition books are kept, outfitted with a bathroom and AC.
Joe keeps Benji there for weeks, putting him through a series of tests: he sees if Benji can identify his own club soda brand, tests him on knowledge of popular books, etc. Meanwhile, Joe breaks up with Beck by texting from Benji's phone (she's furious) and then begins sending tweets from Benji's account that make it seem like he's out of town on a bender somewhere. When it becomes clear that Beck is never going to truly give up her feelings for Benji, no matter how angry she is, Joe kills him by slipping nuts into his latte, which Benji is allergic to.
It's revealed slowly throughout the book that Beck isn't the first woman Joe has stalked. He previously did the same thing to a 20-something Brooklyn musician, and his methods actually were fruitful — they ended up in a relationship. But when she attempted to break up with him on the beach one day, he drowned her in the surf and let her body float into the ocean. Joe gets away with it because no one suspected her death was a murder, instead classifying it as an accidental drowning.
It's also hinted that Joe — who is extremely smart and well-read — was physically and emotionally abused by the owner of the bookstore, Mr. Mooney, where he's worked since he was a 15-year-old. Mr. Mooney would lock Joe in the cage for days at a time if he broke the rules or mishandled the store's books, which is why he knows how to keep people down there and is likely such a genuinely f*cked-up individual.
Beck's Relationship With Peach
Beck has a trio of close friends, but none of them are closer to her than Peach Salinger (played by Shay Mitchell in the TV show). Peach comes from a wealthy family and uses her money to manipulate Beck, who doesn't have much of her own. Eventually Joe begins to see Peach as a threat once he and Beck start dating, and his suspicions are confirmed when he finds an illicit box of photos of Beck in Peach's bedroom that Peach took in secret; Peach very much likes Beck as more than a friend.
Peach is extremely clingy and dependent on Beck, constantly having her do her bidding and subtly trying to undermine her relationship with Joe. Because of that, Joe follows her on a morning run through Central Park, tackles her out of sight, and hits her in the head with a rock. He thinks he's killed her, but really he's only made the situation worse (for himself) — Peach survives and Beck ends up even more dedicated to being by her side at all times.
Toward the end of the book, when Beck and Joe have broken up, Joe follows Beck up to Rhode Island, where she's staying with Peach alone in the Salinger's Summer home. He watches Peach make a move on Beck through the windows, which Beck rebuffs. The next day, when Peach goes for a run on the beach, Joe again tackles her and this time succeeds in killing her; he fills her running jacket with rocks and throws her body off a jetty.
Meet Dr. Nicky
Joe and Beck date on and off for a few months, but after Peach's death, they really connect and seem like they're in a good place (from Joe's perspective). But then he figures out that the whole time they've been together, she's actually been sleeping with her therapist, Dr. Nicky (played by John Stamos).
Joe goes to get treated by Dr. Nicky himself, and through that connection he's able to steal some of the therapist's files on Beck. Nicky describes her as deeply narcissistic, highly sexualized, a pathological liar, and plagued by daddy issues (all true — Beck isn't a crazy killer, but she's also kind of the worst). Although Nicky — who is separated from his wife — starts off their sessions knowing full well that Beck is desperate for attention, she succeeds in seducing him and they start sleeping together regularly.
He buys her lots of expensive gifts and tells her he's going to leave his wife and kids for her. Unfortunately for Dr. Nicky, Beck acts out the way she always does: by ghosting him. He's pissed, and Beck runs back into Joe's arms.
A Gruesome Conclusion
Even with Dr. Nicky somewhat out of the picture, Joe can sense that he's losing his hold on Beck. It all comes crashing down when she lets herself into his apartment one night before he gets home and finds the hole in his wall that's full of her stuff — including dirty underwear and a used tampon. Joe arrives to find her rightfully freaking the f*ck out and does the only rational thing he can think of: beats her over the head, drags her unconscious body downstairs, hails a cab, and locks her in the bookstore's cage.
He puts her through tests the same way he did Benji and finally decides that they need an experience to bond them, which is . . . reading The Da Vinci Code together. In Joe's eyes, reading the book gets them on the same emotional page, and Beck claims she forgives him. Then she beckons him into the cage, where they have sex and fall asleep. When Joe wakes up and goes to pee in the bathroom upstairs, however, Beck makes a break for it.
She nearly makes it out, but Joe has locked the front door of the store, and since it's 4 a.m., no one's around to hear her pounding on the glass. He drags her back behind the register so people won't be able to see them, where he proceeds to strangle her. He thinks he's killed her and starts to break down, but actually she was just faking it. She uses his distraction to try to run again, but he's able to kick her back to the floor and truly choke her to death this time. Using Mr. Mooney's car, he drives Beck's body to a patch of woods near Dr. Nicky's Summer home and buries her body there. Joe frames Dr. Nicky for her death, and he's found guilty. Goodbye, Beck.
The book ends with a woman coming into the bookstore a few days later to apply for a job there. She flirts with Joe and he's very much attracted to her, and it's abundantly, tragically clear that his twisted cycle of obsession is starting once more.