It Ends With Us tells the story of Lily Bloom, a young woman attempting to escape the patterns of violence that defined her youth and adolescence, and to create a new story for her life. As the novel begins, Lily has just buried her father, and is grappling with his legacy and the immense amount of physical and emotional pain he caused Lily and her mother. Throughout the novel, though, she develops a more nuanced perspective on her father’s life, and on her mother’s choice to stay with him. Through her relationships with two men—the passionate, tortured, and angry Ryle and the calm, patient, and loving Atlas—Lily begins to understand who she is and what she wants, and how to carve a path forward that isn’t marked by violence and trauma.

The inciting incident occurs when Ryle and Lily meet on the roof of an apartment building, a meeting which sets the tone for their relationship and foreshadows many of the dynamics that will come into play for each of them. Lily has come to the roof to collect her thoughts in peace and make sense of her feelings about her father’s death. This quiet moment is interrupted by Ryle, who bursts onto the roof and starts kicking a patio chair in rage. This presages how Ryle will regularly disturb Lily’s peace throughout their relationship, bursting into incomprehensible rage, especially in moments when she is peaceful or happy. The two begin to share naked truths, a habit they keep up throughout their relationship, in which they share what’s on their minds without holding back. Each shares a naked truth on the roof that becomes pivotal in their relationship. Ryle shares that he lost a child patient after his brother accidentally shot him. What he doesn’t share is that the reason he is particularly upset about this is that he shot his own brother to death when he was just six years old, a trauma that will still deeply affects him and will shape his relationship to Lily. Lily shares that she lost her virginity to a homeless boy named Atlas. What Lily doesn’t yet know about herself is that she is still, on some level, in love with Atlas. The two flirt and say goodbye, thinking they will never see each other again.

The story is told in the first person and moves back and forth between Lily’s first-person accounts of the present and excerpts from Lily’s diary when she was a teenager. The structure of the novel weaves together Lily’s past and present and often highlights the ways that Lily’s past lives on in her present, sometimes in ways that surprise even her. In her teenage diary, which is addressed to Ellen DeGeneres owing to Lily’s love of her talk show, Lily details her relationship with Atlas, her first love. Atlas and Lily take care of each other, Lily helping the homeless Atlas get food, shelter, and clothing, and Atlas protecting and comforting Lily from her abusive home. Conversations and gifts from Atlas come back into her present as she reads the diary, reminding her of what it felt like to love and be loved by Atlas. The structure of the novel also gives first-person accounts of some of the abuse Lily witnessed and suffered from as a teenager. This helps to emphasize the difficult nature of the past that Lily’s trying to escape. 

The rising action occurs when Ryle first harms Lily. After he courts her aggressively and the couple enjoys a honeymoon period of peace and togetherness, Ryle suddenly turns on a dime. After burning himself on a hot pan, he becomes enraged that a drunk Lily has laughed at the situation and pushes her so hard she falls down and bloodies her eye on a cabinet. After a few seconds of anger and recrimination, Ryle switches back into his old self, full of apologies. Just as the novel flips back and forth between the present and the past, in this moment, Lily’s past overlaps with her present, and she can hear her father’s apologies echoing in Ryle’s words. Though she knows that physical abuse is a red flag and that she’s spent her entire life vowing to never recreate her parents’ marriage, she forgives Ryle, telling him and herself that if it ever happens again, she’ll leave him. When it does happen again, Ryle tells her about his past trauma, and though he says it’s not an excuse, Lily sees his rage in a new light. She has compassion for him and for herself, understanding that violent acts don’t make love disappear. This time, she tells herself she’s nothing like her mother and Ryle isn’t like her father, attempting to distance herself from her past to convince herself that she’s not recreating it.

The climax of the novel occurs when Ryle tries to rape Lily after he reads her adolescent diaries. This is a moment when, in a sense, the past and present converge. The scene parallels an incident in which Lily saw her father attempt to rape her mother. The past also comes into the present, as Ryle reads Lily’s diaries of her past. Ryle is consumed with jealousy about Atlas and says he wants to prove that he loves Lily more than Atlas does. This violent, painful confrontation is an undeniable break for Lily. Physically and emotionally aching, disoriented and heartbroken, the only person that Lily feels like she can call is Atlas, who comes to take her from the apartment to safety. During the medical exam to treat her injuries, Lily also learns that she’s pregnant with Ryle’s baby. 

As she convalesces in Atlas’s home, Lily takes stock of her life and her relationship and does some deep soul searching, including writing in her journal for the first time in years. This is a time when her past and her present, in a sense, talk to each other, and Lily finds compassion for her mother and herself as a teenager as well as a newfound determination to live her life on her own terms. Gradually, she lets Ryle back into her life platonically, but as soon as she sees her daughter on the day she’s born, she knows that she has to leave Ryle, to end the cycle of abuse. Almost a year later, on her own, running a successful business, and raising her daughter, Lily runs into Atlas and the two decide to be together. Returning to her first love in a new life, Lily escapes her traumatic past and starts a new life on her own terms.