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It Starts With Us Summary, Review, Themes, Quotes and Characters

It Starts With Us by Colleen Hoover explores the complex and touching journey of former lovers Lily Kincaid and Atlas Corrigan as they navigate their past traumas, their present struggles, and their hopes for a shared future. 

This sequel to It Ends With Us, published in 2022, delves deep into the realm of rekindled love, personal growth, and the challenges of family dynamics, providing a compelling narrative that balances the heavy themes of domestic abuse and single parenthood with the warmth of rediscovered affection and the courage to fight for those we care about.

It Starts With Us Summary 

In ‘It Ends with Us’, we left Lily Kincaid and Atlas Corrigan at a pivotal moment, their paths crossing again, and Lily revealing her divorce from Ryle. The sequel picks up right there, weaving a tale of hope, love, and resilience through the alternating perspectives of Lily and Atlas.

Atlas is anxious yet hopeful, waiting for a text from Lily. His optimism is a beacon amidst troubles like vandalism at his restaurant, Bib’s. 

Meanwhile, Lily, running her flower shop, Lily Bloom’s, finds herself torn. Her feelings for Atlas are undeniable, but she’s aware of the complications it could bring, especially with her ex-husband Ryle, who’s dangerously jealous and shares custody of their daughter, Emerson.

A surprise visit by Atlas to the flower shop intensifies the situation. An unexpected arrival of Ryle forces Lily to hide Atlas, leading to a tense yet comical moment. Later, they reconnect over FaceTime, flirting and reminiscing, with Atlas asking Lily to read from her old journals about him.

Their first date is both sweet and poignant. 

Lily, exhausted, falls asleep, leaving Atlas to delve into her gifted journal, reflecting on their past. In turn, he writes her a heartfelt letter about his abusive past and how she transformed his life.

But their blossoming romance is shadowed by complex family dynamics. Atlas discovers he has a younger brother, Josh, likely the vandal targeting his restaurants. 

This revelation brings Atlas face-to-face with his estranged mother, Sutton. Lily, meanwhile, faces Ryle’s wrath, sparked by a seemingly innocent connection to a childhood memory they shared with Atlas.

The plot thickens as Atlas and Lily navigate their rekindled relationship. A confrontation with Sutton at Atlas’s restaurant reveals Josh’s desire to stay away from her. 

Atlas, determined to protect his brother, takes a bold step to fight for Josh’s custody.

A wedding, a tattoo revelation, and shared vulnerabilities bring Atlas and Lily closer. They find solace in each other’s arms, acknowledging their past and hopeful for a future together. 

However, Ryle’s uncontrollable rage puts Lily in a perilous situation, forcing her to seek refuge with Atlas, bringing her daughter into this safe haven.

The climax builds as Ryle confronts Atlas, with the latter handling the situation with unexpected calmness and wisdom. 

Atlas’s nonviolent approach to Ryle’s aggression marks a turning point, leading to a resolution where Ryle agrees to seek help for his anger issues.

The story culminates in a heartwarming conclusion. Atlas and Lily’s relationship flourishes, eventually leading to their marriage. The vows exchanged are a testament to their journey – a mix of gratitude, heartbreak, and hope.


Atlas Corrigan: The Resilient Chef with a Heart of Gold

Atlas Corrigan, a successful chef and owner of Bib’s, emerges from a past marred by homelessness and abuse to become a beacon of empathy and resilience. 

His serendipitous reunion with Lily and the discovery of his younger brother, Josh, propel him into confronting his traumatic past. 

Known as “Considerate Atlas,” his profound empathy drives him to help others, especially Josh, for whom he bravely faces his abusive mother to offer a better life. His growth is evident in his approach to conflicts, opting for rational conversations over aggression.

Lily Bloom: A Journey from Fear to Empowerment

Lily Bloom, a survivor of domestic abuse and a dedicated single mother, grapples with the complexities of co-parenting with her volatile ex-husband, Ryle. 

Her reunion with childhood love, Atlas, ignites a spark of hope and self-trust, helping her overcome the shadows of her past. Despite feeling guilt over her divorce, Lily’s journey is marked by growing self-assurance and an unyielding desire to protect her daughter. 

Her evolution from a victim of abuse to a strong, independent woman is profoundly inspiring. 

Lily’s relationship with Atlas not only rekindles old flames but also empowers her to confront Ryle’s controlling behavior, paving the way for a life defined by her own terms.

Ryle Kincaid: The Flawed Surgeon Unable to Change

Ryle Kincaid, a talented surgeon, stands as the novel’s central antagonist. 

His inability to respect Lily’s boundaries and his refusal to acknowledge his abusive behavior jeopardize her happiness and safety. Clinging to the hope of reconciliation, Ryle’s jealousy and anger only drive Lily further away. 

His character, static and unyielding, becomes the catalyst for Lily’s decision to pursue a life independent of his influence. 

Ryle’s journey, or lack thereof, is a stark contrast to the other characters’ growth and serves as a poignant reminder of the damaging effects of unaddressed anger and jealousy.

Josh: The Catalyst for Healing and Hope

Josh, Atlas’s younger brother, unexpectedly enters his life, mirroring Atlas’s own troubled childhood. His arrival triggers a journey of healing and familial bonding for both. 

Josh’s character is pivotal in helping Atlas confront and reconcile with their shared traumatic past. By providing Josh with the understanding and support he lacked as a child, Atlas not only aids in his brother’s healing but also finds closure and hope for his own future. 

Their relationship is a beautiful portrayal of how compassion and empathy can transform lives and create new beginnings.

Theo: The Unofficial Therapist and Bridge Builder

Theo, the son of Atlas’s friend, is a precocious and insightful young boy who becomes an unexpected source of guidance for Atlas. His openness and wisdom in discussing his own life challenges, including his sexual orientation, offer Atlas a chance to practice empathy and understanding, unwittingly preparing him for his future role as a guardian to Josh. 

Theo’s influence extends beyond his personal interactions with Atlas, as he becomes instrumental in rekindling Atlas’s relationship with Lily and fostering a bond between Atlas and Josh. 

Allysa Kincaid: The Balancing Force in Turbulent Times

Allysa Kincaid, Ryle’s sister and Lily’s best friend, finds herself in the difficult position of balancing her loyalty to her brother with her support for Lily. 

Her character demonstrates the complexities of familial and friendship loyalties in the face of abuse. Allysa’s unwavering support for Lily, despite her wish for Lily and Ryle to reconcile, showcases her integrity and empathy. Her role is crucial in providing a safe space for Lily and Emerson, enabling Lily to pursue her independence and relationship with Atlas. 

Allysa’s character reflects the importance of supportive relationships in navigating life’s challenges and the power of standing up for what is right, even when it’s difficult.

Jenny Bloom: The Silent Survivor Inspiring Change

Jenny Bloom, Lily’s mother, is a quiet yet powerful presence in the novel. A survivor of domestic violence herself, Jenny’s relationship with Lily is a tapestry of shared pain and mutual understanding. 

Her guarded nature, a result of her own abusive past, contrasts with Lily’s outspoken approach to confronting abuse. Jenny’s support and protective instincts offer Lily the strength and space to forge her own path, different from her mother’s. 

Jenny’s character serves as a subtle yet poignant reminder of the generational impact of domestic violence and the courage it takes to break the cycle.

It Starts With Us Summary

My Review

Colleen Hoover’s follow-up to her bestselling novel is a powerful and emotive exploration of love, trauma, and resilience. With this, Hoover doesn’t shy away from a nuanced portrayal of abusive relationships and their aftermath, delivering a story that’s simultaneously harrowing and hopeful.

The novel picks up the thread of the relationship between protagonists Lily Kincaid and Atlas Corrigan. 

The alternating perspectives of Lily and Atlas provide an immersive reading experience, each character imbued with a rich, authentic voice that feels achingly real.  

Hoover’s decision, once again, to delve deeper into the complexity of these characters’ emotions and pasts is a commendable aspect of the novel.

Her narrative shines a light on the enduring power of love and its ability to heal, even in the face of monumental obstacles. As the relationship between Lily and Atlas evolves, their shared past and individual traumas come to the fore, resulting in a poignant and affecting love story.

Atlas’s storyline, in particular, is heart-rending, revolving around his struggle to protect his young brother, Josh, from their abusive mother. 

Hoover weaves this subplot into the main narrative seamlessly, expanding the scope of the book and allowing for an exploration of themes of responsibility, brotherhood, and familial bonds. 

She also daringly confronts the consequences of domestic violence, the destructive legacy it leaves behind, and the courage it takes to break free. 

Lily’s confrontation with her abusive ex-husband, Ryle, and her efforts to protect their daughter, Emerson, from him, are depicted with brutal honesty and sensitivity. 

These episodes resonate with a jarring intensity that underscores the unflinching realism of Hoover’s narrative.

Despite the intensity of the subject matter, Hoover infuses It Starts With Us with moments of tenderness, warmth, and genuine affection. 

The love story at its core is a slow-burning one, with the connection between Atlas and Lily deepening in a way that feels both satisfying and believable.

However, some readers might find the novel’s resolution somewhat quick, with certain plot developments tied up neatly in a way that may feel at odds with the messy realities of the issues Hoover addresses. 

Yet, these moments do not detract significantly from the overall impact of the narrative.

With It Starts With Us, Hoover continues to establish herself as a significant voice in contemporary fiction. Her gift for creating compelling characters, coupled with her exploration of tough subjects, results in a novel that is as challenging as it is rewarding.

Key Themes

1. Abuse Survival

Both Lily and Atlas have endured abuse in their pasts, but their responses to these traumas are markedly different from the abusive behaviors they’ve experienced. 

Lily takes a stand against Ryle’s abusive behavior by choosing to leave him, even at the cost of her own comfort and security, and seeking legal protection for herself and her daughter. 

Atlas, on the other hand, goes beyond merely escaping his abusive mother; he actively strives to prevent his younger brother from suffering the same fate. 

Both characters serve as examples of how it is possible to rise above one’s circumstances and to make the conscious decision not to perpetuate the cycle of abuse.

2. Importance of Non-Violent Conflict Resolution

The novel also underscores the necessity of resolving conflicts without resorting to violence. 

This is seen most notably in the confrontation between Atlas and Ryle, where despite Ryle’s physically aggressive behavior, Atlas manages to defuse the situation through dialogue and reason. 

The interaction between them highlights the idea that violence only perpetuates harm and exacerbates existing problems, while calm, reasoned discussion can be a path towards resolution and mutual understanding.

3. The Value of Authentic Love and Selfless Sacrifice

Atlas’s letter to Lily, where he shares his painful past and how her love transformed him, manifests an authentic love that transcends pain and past trauma. 

This love involves a willingness to make sacrifices for the other person’s wellbeing, seen when Atlas agrees to fight for Josh’s custody, despite the challenges involved. 

Similarly, Lily’s decision to keep Emerson away from Ryle, despite the discomfort it may cause, represents a mother’s selfless love for her child. 

Thus, the story reinforces the idea that true love isn’t just about passionate emotions but involves selfless acts of sacrifice and the courage to make difficult decisions for the other’s wellbeing.

4. The Power of Understanding

This is demonstrated through the relationship between Atlas and Josh. 

When Atlas discovers that his younger brother, Josh, has been vandalizing his restaurant, his initial reaction could have been to resort to anger or retaliation. However, upon understanding Josh’s circumstances – the abusive environment under their mother, Sutton – Atlas offers compassion and opens his home to him instead. 

Atlas’s ability to empathize with Josh’s situation and provide support, even when faced with hostility, is a testament to the power of understanding in healing and nurturing relationships.


  1. “I can draw a seedling with two tiny branches. Yours and mine. We’ll be on our own brand-new, tiny family tree—one that starts with us.”

  2. “You’re going to drive five miles just to give me a hug? I’d run five miles just to give you a hug.”

  3. “It is my wish for you to be my fish.”

  4. “She’s my person, and I am hers, and that’s something I’ve known since the first week we met.”
  5. “If it takes a million kisses for her not to think about the scars that surround her heart tattoo, then I’ll kiss her there a million and one times.”

  6. “Maybe the idea of love ending being a negative thing is simply a matter of perspective. Because to me, the idea that a love came to an end means that, at some point, there was love that existed. And there was a time in my life, before you, when I was completely untouched by it.”

  7. “I prefer honesty over loyalty any day, because with honesty comes loyalty.”

  8. “He’s a broken man, but he isn’t broken because of me. He was broken before he met me. Sometimes people think if they love a broken person enough, they can be what finally repairs them, but the problem with that is the other person just ends up broken, too.”

  9. “My choice helped me realize that sometimes the hardest decisions a person can make will most likely lead to the best outcomes.”

  10. “We finally reached the beach, my little whale.”

  11. “You’re stressing over things that haven’t even happened yet.”

  12. “My loyalty is to the people who bring positivity into my life. My loyalty is to the people who want to build me up and see me happy. Those are the people I’m going to make decisions about my life for.”

Final Thoughts

It Starts With Us is a gripping examination of the intricacies of love, abuse, and the struggle for redemption. It’s a journey that’s difficult, sometimes brutal, but ultimately uplifting. 

This novel will resonate deeply with those who appreciate well-drawn characters, layered narratives, and stories that don’t shy away from the darker corners of the human experience.

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