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Learn what happens in Without Merit, an especially unique and thought-provoking book from Colleen Hoover’s catalog that’s not exactly a love story (like Hoover’s most popular books). This Without Merit summary fully explores a journey of self-discovery that showcases the power of love and family. You’ll learn details to help you decide whether to read it and/or enhance your reading experience. Let’s get literary!

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover held in front of a bookshelf with other Colleen Hoover books.

Quick Details 

  • Genre: New Adult romance and family drama fiction
  • Age Rating17+
  • Trigger Warnings: sexual molestation, depression, suicide, overdose
  • Spice Level: 0.5 out of 5

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is about Merit Voss, a teenager living in a dysfunctional family filled with secrets. Struggling with depression about this, Merit uncovers shocking family secrets. The novel explores love, mental health, and the importance of open communication as Merit learns to confront her problems and seek forgiveness within her complex family.

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.

Characters

  • Merit Voss: 17-year-old high school senior living in an old converted church with a unique 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 whom Merit meets in a store early in the story
  • Sagan: mysterious boy whom Merit meets at an antique shop who ends up having a tie to her family 

Without Merit Summary

Without Merit 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 nicknamed “Dollar Voss.”

Merit feels isolated from the rest of her family.  Victoria was her mother’s former nurse, whom the Voss siblings never liked.  Merit and Honor have also drifted apart, and Utah keeps to his daily routines.  Likewise, Merit’s father is busy with his wife and their 4-year-old son, Moby, and Merit’s mother does not come up from the basement.  

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 named Luck, who asks her for a ride to his sister’s house — who happens to be Merit’s stepmother, Victoria. So, Merit brings Luck back to the Dollar Voss, 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 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 Merit tries to lose her virginity to Luck and steals her mother’s pain medication, she hits rock bottom, and her relationship with the elders in the house is strained.  

Merit begins drinking from a tequila bottle and writes an open letter to all the 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.  

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. He also asks Utah to leave the house.

The following day, Merit and Sagan grow closer, but it is indeed the calm before the storm in the Dollar Voss.

First, Utah explains that he realized that he was gay when he was 13 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.

Luck then visits Merit in her room and encourages her to review a clinical depression screening he printed.  Merit, however, refuses.

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 now 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.

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 mental illnesses after a brain injury.  Because she was convinced she had cancer, he began giving her placebo pills only out of a desire to protect her.

Ending Explained

Warning: There are spoilers of the ending in this section of the Without Merit summary.

Without Merit 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.

Merit finally admits 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.

Lastly, Wolfgang was surprisingly female and leaves behind two beautiful puppies for the Voss family to raise.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the summary of Without Merit?

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is about Merit Voss, a teenager living in a dysfunctional family filled with secrets. Struggling with depression about this, Merit uncovers shocking family secrets. The novel explores love, mental health, and the importance of open communication as Merit learns to confront her problems and seek forgiveness within her complex family.

Is Without Merit a standalone?

Without Merit by Colleen Hoover is a standalone novel.  It is not part of a series.

Is Without Merit spicy?

No.  Without Merit by Colleen Hoover has a few kissing scenes but is now spicy at all.

Is Without Merit worth reading?

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.

Conclusion

This Without Merit summary showcased a unique book from Colleen Hoover’s backlist that is more of a family drama about mental health and complex family dynamics as opposed to 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 it’s another satisfying fast-paced novel by the beloved author.


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