So many secrets in this house. And yet, the one secret I should have told years ago is the one I’ve kept the quietest.
Colleen Hoover is one of best authors I’ve ever read and her books are always sitting at the top of my recommendations lists for every kind of reader! Her books are absorbing, her characters are endearing, and each new story she writes is unique, relatable, and thought provoking. She has a very distinctive writing style that I absolutely love, I also respect and admire her as a person — the charity she has started is incredible, and each time she announces a new book, I count down the days until I’m able to read it.
Without Merit is unlike anything she’s written before. She returned to her YA roots with this one — more in the vein of Slammed and Hopeless — and yet this story is still very different even than those. It’s a slow building, slow burning story that eventually takes you completely by surprise. The most important thing to keep in mind when reading this book is that perspective changes everything. The story doesn’t tell, it shows you. It’s real, raw, and painful. And yet also deeply heart-warming and healing. It conveys a powerful message that tackles tough subjects with grace. It’s relevant and relatable. It’s a book I’d want to give to every teen, but at the same time I believe everyone would enjoy it. The story takes you right into the dark, but also brings you back and leaves you smiling.
“Not every mistake deserves a consequence.
Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.”
The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.
Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.
Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.
Poignant and powerful, Without Merit explores the layers of lies that tie a family together and the power of love and truth.
Other than the blurb, I don’t really want to post too much about what the story is about. Colleen Hoover is one of the authors who has fully gained my trust over the years and for me just knowing that she wrote the book is enough to make me feel confident diving into the story blind. I would strongly encourage you to do the same.
Without Merit is a quietly powerful read. It’s a slow build that didn’t really keep my heart racing as I read, but I believe that was intentional. I don’t think it was meant to be an angsty style of read. I think it was meant to be more of a fictionalized reflection of something closer to real life. Sometimes the things that influence a person’s choices the most come quietly. This isn’t the type of story where one huge, cataclysmic event changes everything. It’s the opposite. It’s a butterfly effect times ten. It’s the result of many smaller events that all together build a storm.
No one would be able to determine from the outside of our house that our family of seven includes an atheist, a home wrecker, an ex-wife suffering from a severe case of agoraphobia, and a teenage girl whose weird obsession borders on necrophilia.
No one would be able to determine any of that from inside our house, either. We’re good at keeping secrets in this family.
The first chapter really sets the tone for the whole book. You’re introduced to Merit’s character — her hopes and frustrations, and then there’s this one moment where you suddenly realize that nothing is as it seems.
“So many people dream of living in a house with a white picket fence. Little do they know, there’s no such thing as a perfect family, no matter how white the picket fence is.”
Everything about her life was unusual, odd, different than normal — like the Adams family of small town America — and as the story goes on you could really see how much she suffered from a loss of identity. When you think about ‘child neglect’, your mind often jumps to extreme – abusive – cases. But it can manifest in so many ways. Sometimes a simple lack of attention can be enough to make a child feel so invisible that they lose their sense of self-worth.
I don’t matter here, either. If I dropped out of life, just like I dropped out of school, everyone’s lives would go on.
With or without Merit.
This story has many layers to it and they build. Like I said, it’s the butterfly effect many times over. The writing is brilliant. And it builds so quietly that you don’t even notice that a storm is brewing until the moment where everything just explodes. Implodes. Everything is turned on its end and as the reader you’re RIGHT THERE with it.
I have Utah’s secret.
I have my father’s secret.
My mother’s secret.
I don’t want any of them anymore!
Maybe if I let all the secrets out, they wouldn’t make me feel like drowning anymore.
Perspective. You’ll keep coming back to that theme throughout the book. And when you’re finished it, you’ll look back and just realize how much perspective matters. The Voss Family was brimming with secrets. But the thing with secrets is that they aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes the villain isn’t the bad guy. And as the quote at the top of the blurb says, “Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.”
Perspective changes everything.
The story shows you every detail. It doesn’t tell you what to think. It makes you draw your own conclusions. Without meaning to, you can’t even help but judge situations. But then it shows you this one missing piece that makes you realize how wrong you were. It’s very cleverly written and eye opening.
It’s incredible how much better a kiss can make you feel, right?”
I nod. “So incredible.”
His thumb brushes my cheek, then his satisfied grin falls into a pointed stare. “That’s exactly why I won’t do it again, Merit. You need to fall in love with yourself first.”
And OMG OMG OMG! There is a BRILLIANT bookstore scene!!!!!!!! I don’t want to spoil anything but if you’ve been a longtime fan of this author and follow her, you’ll get a serious kick out of that scene 😀
As I said, this book is unlike anything else Colleen Hoover has written. It’s a new direction for her and, like all her other books, it’s a strong and stellar read I whole-heartedly recommend. If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s very much like It Ends With Us in feeling, but instead this book is targeted at the teen age range rather than adult. But again, I do believe this is a book that everyone will enjoy! It’s easily one of my favorite books of the year!
Rating: 4.5 stars! Mature YA Standalone.
- Buy WITHOUT MERIT (Kindle)
- Buy WITHOUT MERIT (Hardcover)
- Buy WITHOUT MERIT (Paperback)
- Buy WITHOUT MERIT (Audiobook)
- Buy WITHOUT MERIT (iBooks)