You probably already know that New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover is the hottest author out there right now. You may have even read the most popular Colleen Hoover books and are diving even further into Colleen Hoover’s back list.
But, what you may not know is that Without Merit, originally published in 2017, is unlike any other Colleen Hoover novel, as it is not primarily a love story, but rather a journey of self-discovery that showcases the power of love and family.
This guide to Without Merit by Colleen Hoover shares the full summary (including spoilers, which are marked), a non-spoiler review, quotes, and answers to frequently asked questions. It was prepared by my freelance writer, a Colleen Hoover super fan whose been devouring her catalog alongside me, and it was edited by another super fan – me!
We think Without Merit by Colleen Hoover would be a great book for any fan of Hoover’s fast-paced writing or for someone who would like to deviate from Hoover’s well-known romance stories and tackle a family drama. This book shows a different side of what this talented writer is capable of and that is to be applauded.
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
- Genre: New Adult romance and family drama fiction
- Age Rating: 17+
- Trigger Warnings: sexual molestation, depression, suicide, overdose
- Spice Level: 0.5 out of 5
Without Merit Characters
- Merit Voss: 17-year-old living high school senior in an old converted church with an interesting array of family members
- Barnaby Voss: father of the Voss children who has a strained relationship with his children
- Victoria Finney-Voss: Barnaby Voss’s current wife and mother of Moby Voss, Merit’s little half-brother
- Vickey Voss: Barnaby Voss’s ex-wife
- Honor Voss: Merit’s identical twin sister
- Luck Finney: Victoria’s unique half-brother who Merit meets in a store early in the story
- Sagan: mysterious boy who Merit meets at an antique shop who ends up having a tie to her family
Without Merit Summary (WITH SPOILERS)
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is the story of Merit Voss, a 17-year-old unique girl who lives in the small town of Sulphur Springs, Texas. Merit collects trophies (that she has not earned) and meets a boy around her age one day while looking to purchase a trophy at an antique store.
The two share an unexpected kiss in the town square and seem captivated by one another. Unfortunately, the boy, named Sagan, only kissed Merit because he thought she was her identical twin sister, Honor.
Merit admits that Honor has a propensity for dating boys who are terminally ill and assumes she is dating Sagan for that reason. The two part ways.
Merit then heads home to the repurposed church where she lives with her father Barnaby and his current wife Victoria, her sister Honor, her brother Utah, and her mother Vicky, who battled cancer and now suffers from social anxiety and lives in the basement. The home is divided into four quarters and is therefore nicknamed Dollar Voss.
Merit feels isolated from the rest of her family. Victoria was her mother’s former nurse and both Merit and her siblings never liked her. Merit and Honor have also drifted apart, and Utah keeps to the same routine every day of his life, which includes changing the old church marquee with inspirational messages each morning. Likewise, Merit’s father is busy with his wife and their four-year-old son, Moby, and Merit’s mother does not come up from the basement. Overall, she lives in a converted church filled with quite a dysfunctional family.
One day, after the neighbor passes away and his dog, Wolfgang, shows up at Dollar Voss, Merit goes out to buy him dog food. Afterward, she meets an outgoing boy in a kilt, named Luck, who asks her for a ride to his sister’s house. Merit packs him and his few bags into her car and learns that his sister is actually Victoria. Merit brings Luck back to her house, where Victoria is surprised to see him but allows him to stay in Barnaby’s office.
Meanwhile, Merit realizes that Sagan is living in the guest room across from her, and he explains he has family issues.
As the story unfolds, it is clear that the Voss family is harboring some major family secrets. Merit stops attending school and hides it from her father. Luck has a female acquaintance, but shortly thereafter, Merit finds him in bed with Utah, who asks Merit not to say anything to anyone. Sagan seems to be taking an interest in Merit, which confuses her. And of course, her mother remains in the basement.
One night, things come to a head. Merit pretends to be Honor, in her absence, and kisses Sagan, who surprisingly pulls away. But, when he realizes she is actually Merit, they share a passionate kiss.
Sagan explains that he and Honor are just friends, as well as mutual friends of the boy Honor is dating, Colby. He questions Merit’s intentions in pretending to be Honor and kissing him, and Merit tries to explain that she simply wanted to feel what life would be like in Honor’s shoes. Sagan angrily storms out on Merit.
After this string of events, along with an awkward experience in which she tries to lose her virginity to Luck and the stealing of her mother’s pain medication, Merit hits rock bottom. Her relationship with the elders in the house is strained at best, and her own mother is on pain medication (which Merit has been stealing for reasons even she cannot understand) and relinquished to the basement.
Merit begins drinking from a tequila bottle and writes an open letter to all inhabitants of Dollar Voss. It includes all of her family’s darkest secrets plus her darkest secret of all: Utah forced her to kiss him when she was 12. Merit then copies and distributes her letter to every member of the family to read.
Still not feeling numb enough, Merit returns to her room and takes 28 of her mother’s pills, then panics and tells Utah, who calls 911 while Sagan forces her to vomit. Barnaby tells the responders that they were just placebo pills, which confuses Merit, and asks Utah to leave the house after reading Merit’s letter.
The following day, Merit and Sagan grow closer, but it is indeed the calm before the storm in the Voss family home.
First, Utah explains that he realized that he was gay when he was thirteen and he wrongfully thought that if he kissed a girl, he would not be gay. Merit accepts his apology and they share a sibling hug.
Lucky then visits Merit in her room and gives her a clinical depression screening he printed, encouraging her to take a look at it in light of her recent symptoms. Merit, however, refuses and throws the paper across the room.
Barnaby, Honor, Merit, Sagan, and Utah set out to bury the dog, who has died, and Merit speaks with Honor, who explains that her first true love, Kirk, was terminally ill, but she is only a platonic friend to all the other terminally ill boys she visits in the hospital. Merit realizes she misjudged Honor, and they share a hug of forgiveness and letting go.
While driving back to Dollar Voss, Honor tells Barnaby she is ashamed to be his daughter, and, finally, Barnaby tells them all that Vicky never had cancer, but rather she suffered from an array of mental illnesses after a brain injury that resulted from a car accident. The woman he married disappeared before his very eyes as her depression worsened over the years. Because she was convinced she had cancer, he began giving her placebo pills only out of a desire to protect her.
WARNING: THE CONCLUSION CONTAINING SPOILERS IS AHEAD.
The book concludes with Sagan moving out of Dollar Voss and into an adjacent property after he slept (platonically) in Merit’s room and Barnaby told him he would be more comfortable with Sagan living off-site if he is going to date Merit.
Merit finally admitted to both herself and her family that she may be depressed. Barnaby announces that the whole family will be going to therapy to work through their variety of issues, as they all move forward on better terms
Lastly, Wolfgang surprisingly was female and left behind two beautiful puppies after her death for the Voss family to raise.
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Without Merit Review (Without Spoilers)
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is a book unlike any other of hers that I have read, and I have read nearly her entire catalog. This is not a love story. This is a journey of self-discovery that showcases the power of love and family.
One element of the book that remains true to Hoover’s form is the “instant love” between Merit and Sagan: They share one single kiss in the town square and are immediately captivated by and drawn to one another. Their connection, however, takes a back seat to Merit’s relationships with her relatives and the others living in Dollar Voss.
This book reminded me a bit of The Addams Family. The Vosses live in a converted church, dress the statue of Jesus Christ up for holidays and special events, and have powerful unique personalities. Each individual carries so much baggage that when they are put together, the sum of the parts is much greater than the individual pieces.
For me, this made the story fall a bit flat. In many ways, it was just too busy. It sometimes felt like an overstimulating carousel that I couldn’t get off.
What I did love about this book, though, was the focus on mental health, from Vicky’s severe case of agoraphobia that was rooted in life-altering depression, to the slow development of depressive symptoms in a teenage girl. I thought it was a difficult topic that was portrayed beautifully by Hoover.
And, watching Merit’s sense of identity blossom at the conclusion of the story when she is finally at peace with her family, agrees to go to therapy, and is in a healthy place with Sagan, is the icing on the cake.
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be: interesting. It would be a great book for any fan of Hoover’s fast-paced writing or for someone who would like to deviate from Hoover’s well-known romance stories. This book shows a different side of what this talented writer is capable of and that is to be applauded.
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Without Merit Quotes
“Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.”
“Don’t make your presence known. Make your absence felt.”
“You don’t get to decide what your life means to anyone else.”
“If silence were a river, your tongue would be the boat.”
“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.”
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Frequently Asked Questions
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is a standalone novel. It is not part of a series.
No. Without Merit by Colleen Hoover has a few kissing scenes but is now spicy at all.
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is a good read for those looking for a fast-paced book with a large family of complex characters who have mental health struggles. While there is some romance, it is not primarily a love story, though, like many of her other novels.
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover has some sad and emotional parts and deals with mental illness.
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover contains suicide, sexual assault, overdose, and mental illness.
No. Without Merit by Colleen Hoover only has a few kissing scenes, but it tackles several mental health issues. It is recommended for ages 17 and over.
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is a unique book from her backlist in that it is more a family drama about mental health and complex family dynamics than a love story (though there is a bit of romance!). If you’re of adult age and okay with these unique qualities and potential triggers, then we recommend this book to you as another satisfying fast-paced novel by the beloved author.
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