How Netflix Original Series ‘YOU’ differs from the Book

YOU on Netflix – Picture from Netflix

YOU has become the latest obsession with Netflixers around the world and as many of you know, it’s based on a book and we’ve gone through both the series and the books and here are the main differences between the series and the book. 

Indeed, as soon as YOU was released on Boxing Day, viewers have esteemed the Netflix Original series as intense, scary and phenomenal. You can be a romantic drama at times- even Elizabeth Lail, who stars as Beck, assumed this genre before having read the book. Entertaining, chilling and addictive, the psychological thriller grips us. YOU blurs the boundaries between love and obsession; digital privacy and social media; hero and villain (because if Joe isn’t what he deems Frankenstein in episode two: a monster who “is really cool and scary but also not really the monster”, then I don’t know who is).

Penn Badgley in YOU on Netflix

An emotional rollercoaster, YOU is in the perspective of Joe (played by Penn Badgley): a creepy yet strangely lovable stalker. The first person narrative is no more prominent than in the tantalizingly well-written book the whole of season one is based on: Caroline Kepnes’ YOU, written in 2014, and the reviews are even more sparkling. Despite being a “beautifully crafted thriller” (People) which is “both original and compelling” (Daily Mail), the series diverts from the book.

How does the dramatization of ‘YOU’ differ to the book?

Here are just five ways in which the Netflix Original series differs to the bestselling thriller.

Spoiler alert: beware as I (unapologetically) spoil major events from both the book and series (season one):

1. Paco

Read YOU (and I strongly urge you to) and there is no neighboring family to Joe’s stingy, collectible typewriter-filled flat (typewriters also being something more emphasized in the book).

No Paco, no Claudia, no Ron.

Through Paco, the series transmits Joe’s experience with Mr. Mooney (played by Mark Blum) – whose mantra of “gently (not ‘Carefully’ like in the series) Joseph” sticks with Joe. The danger of Joe’s influence is highlighted as, whilst Paco not only reflects a younger Joe, it is hinted that Joe’s homicidal and violent tendencies could also be imprinted onto Paco (who looks uncannily like a younger version of Joe).

Penn Badgley and Luca Padovan in YOU

This new neighboring family probably compensates for the disappearance in the series of Curtis (who is the original reason for Joe getting beaten up by the way): a “high school kid” who also works at Mooney’s Bookshop (initially anyway- until Joe fired him).

In fact, Ethan doesn’t work at the bookstore until much later- at the same time Beck is hired. The series’ characterization of Ethan is also very different to Kepnes’.

In the book, he is Exclamation Point Ethan; he is “like a hermaphrodite… in a CK One asexual cologne 1992 sort of way” (the painful specificity is real and a definite nod to Kepnes). He is a Gap-sale lover, a “litmus test of a person”, who was born too late and is “aggressive in all the wrong ways”, calling everyone “ma’am” and says ‘jazz music’ (when it’s just ‘jazz’).
In the series, however, he is Joe’s I’ll-whisper-in-your-ear-after-every-Beck-encounter wingman and not much else.


2. Movie, Book and Music References:

Curtis isn’t the only aspect of the book that the series cut out. Kepnes embeds a plethora of book, movie and music references in Joe’s narrative. First of all, Beck is a Pitch Perfect lover, and both Joe and Beck bond over Hannah and Her Sisters (Joe personally relating to Elliot- Michael Caine); and Beck and her friends “all hate Girls”.

Also, Stephen King plays a much bigger role in the book; whilst the series does include Mooney’s busy day of the release of Doctor Sleep, the “long-awaited follow-up” to The Shining, Kepnes uses Stephen King throughout the book to cement Joe’s narrative in a way that the series does not.

Indeed, the references do not end there: not only is Beck linked with Charlotte’s Web (“You are Charlotte’s Web and I could love you”), but with “big Portman eyes” and “that Portman smile”, Kepnes ensures that Beck is “my (Joe’s) own little Natalie Portman circa the end of the movie Closer”.

According to Kepnes’ Joe, “Prince is the closest thing we have to e.e. cummings” and Prince’s lyrics are cleverly manipulated by Kepnes, echoing throughout the book. Beck is short story writer in the book, yet notably writes poetry in the series, and Kepnes’ Joe referring to Prince as a poet does not seem to link Joe and Beck with their mutual poetic nature in the series.

Elton John is another artist referenced- one Peach primarily listens to, and without earphones (unlike in the series: yes, I see those white earbuds you’re wearing, Shay Mitchell), music Peach “blasts” unapologetically when on her daily runs.

Whilst these references aren’t mentioned in the series, it adds to Kepnes’ compelling plot- and to what Blythe and Beck’s professor (in episode three) deems, infusing “the universal with painful specificity”.


3. Beck’s Friends

Shay Mitchell, Kathryn Gallagher, Elizabeth Lail, and Nicole Kang in YOU

The series seems to treat Beck’s friends as a block of four people that meet at bars and cafés to discuss Beck’s professor situation and romantic front, as well as Benji and Joe. However, the series, whilst partially having recreated Lynn, completely recreated Chana: she becomes Annika Attwater (Kathryn Gallagher) in the series. In the book, Chana (the series’ Annika) is a female Adam Levine, beady-eyed and critical, with “unwarranted self-confidence”, altered in the series so that she is an Instagram body-positive influencer. Lynn, on the other hand, is dead inside, like a corpse”, Instagramming “methodically, clinically”; in the series, I am sure l you can agree that she is portrayed as just as insubstantial.

Peach, played by Shay Mitchell, is portrayed as controlling and patronizing- both in the series and book. However, in the book, Peach has “thick frayed hair” (and when was Shay Mitchell’s hair anything but perfect?).

Shay Mitchell and Elizabeth Lail in You

In the book, unlike the series, at Greenpoint (which occurs in the Pilot episode), Peach is not present as she is indifferent, somewhat intolerant, to the rest of Beck’s friends. The opposite is also true for Peach’s party (Beck and Joe’s second date): Lynn and Chana are not at the party in the book but are they are at the party in episode two of the series. Kepnes shows us how there is Beck with Peach and there is a Beck with Chana and Lynn, a detail absent in the series.


4. Dr. Nicky

Dr. Nicky Angeline: his character, the events surrounding him and when they happen indeed mark another difference between the series and the book. Kepnes’ Dr. Nicky is ironic as he has a psychology masters, not a Ph.D.; he is a Vans-wearing shrink, “clinging to his youth”.

John Stamos bears the “encroaching blue eyes” and holds the appearance of having “chemically whitened teeth”- just like Kepnes’ Dr. Nicky. However, in the series, Joe’s narrative to Dr. Nicky (which includes feigning his homosexuality and using pseudonyms) differs greatly to Joe’s narrative in the book. To Dr. Nicky, he has OCD, having “become psychotically obsessed” with a random Honeydrippers video. Joe calls himself Paul but Kepnes’ Joe claims the name Dan Fox (“son of Paula Fox and Dan Brown”) when attending therapy.

The series ends with Dr. Nicky being framed for the murder of Beck, based on the book she wrote while imprisoned in the cage, but in Kepnes’ You, Beck’s therapist is pinned down for her murder, but this is not based on a book Beck wrote and is revealed at the start of You’s sequel: Hidden Bodies.


5. The End

The final chapters detail what only can be described as a gory and violent death and an end to Guinevere Beck. The final episode doesn’t detail her death much, but the book does (oh it does). However, the book makes it quite clear that the series’ final scene with Candace is not possible, but You co-creator Sera Gamble told Vanity Fair: Candace is “not nearly as dead as [Joe] thought.”

Both the series and book have a cyclical structure with the bookshop door opening, bells tinkling; it’s a doorbell chime in the book, and instead, it is Amy Adam that walks in (and no, not the actress- Joe thought that too).

Penn Badgley in YOU

Indeed, Caroline Kepnes’ YOU is “smart, snarky and creepily compelling”; I couldn’t say it better than Leah Raeder: “Go read. No excuses.”

YOU is a “MUST read” and Stephen King deemed it “hypnotic and scary”- and without the book, there is no series.

Can you find any other differences between the book and the series? Let us know!

YOU on Netflix has been confirmed to release a second season- no doubt based on Caroline Kepnes’ second book: Hidden Bodies, Lena Dunham describing it as “just as delicious and insane as its predecessor”, and we are lured back to Kepnes’ “insanely narcissistic yet strangely charming protagonist” once again.

Why not read both before the second season comes out?

Season 2 is coming to Netflix in 2019 so keep an eye out for that.

Jolina Bradley

Residing in London, Jolina Bradley- a self-proclaimed feminist and aspiring activist, poet and writer- joined What’s on Netflix in 2018. Her first article stemmed from her love of psychological thrillers, mysteries and crime dramas. She also has an interest in French, maths, psychology and philosophy.