& Reviews: The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry. Publisher: Razorbill January 2016

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry. Publisher: Razorbill January 2016

The Book Itself: Quite pretty, really. Watercolors and a curling font. You know this is a romance right off the bat, from the title alone. But the cover helps reinforce that idea.

My Review: Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start…until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.
 
That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

I have a hard time relating to high school aged characters these days. Not that I am SO worldy and wise and educated now that I am several years out of school, but I have been reading a lot of science fiction/fantasy books or other fiction that deal with a lot higher stakes and themes: government powers, interplanetary or civil war, deaths of family and friends and characters you come to love. So seeing your quarterback ex-boyfriend at a tailgate party just doesn’t read as dramatic to me. Or going on a family road trip. If you’re going to write a book about everyday worries, I want them to seem larger than life, that they are important, to the character and also to the reader. And I just didn’t identify well with the characters in this story.

What does interest me is possibly living in an alternate dimension or timeline from someone else, and having a strong connection with them. That is the intriguing part of TLTSTW. But it’s not incredibly clear or well structured.

Natalie has thought she’s maybe a bit crazy her whole life. She’s had horrible nightmares and visions for much of her childhood, and a figure she calls Grandmother (but suspects is actually some manifestation of God), pops up sometimes in the middle of the night to tell her stories and fables steeped in Native American lore. Plus, she starts slipping into another world.

Adding to that, she has broken up with a longtime boyfriend, is graduating high school and is about to leave for a college across the country, separated from her best friend. Now let’s add hormones into the mix and a boy with a Southern accent from the wrong side of the tracks. FUSTERCLUCK.

First: the love interest. Beau does not overly appeal to me. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, but allow me one scene in particular to demonstrate. A friend that both Natalie and Beau know (in different worlds, of course), gets in an accident in which alcohol plays a big role. Natalie runs into Beau’s arms and notices that he too, is drunk. He’s also been driving all over the place. Beau starts to lament that he too is an alcoholic, and Natalie soothes his fears by saying “But you drink to travel between worlds. It’s different.” Um…no, Natalie. Drunk driving is still drunk driving and that should not be attractive to you. Neither should eating cereal in beer, but apparently that works for you, too. The crotchety old lady in my head shaking her finger at “kids these days” doesn’t really like the picture Beau paints as an object of affection for anyone.

Next: traveling between worlds. I so wanted this to be better than it was! The entire situation is told very confusingly and revealed so slowly that it is difficult to see it being meaningful. We don’t truly understand what the “worlds” are and what Natalie has to do with Beau and vice versa until about 20 pages before the book ends. It’s too long to wait before a payoff. And when the reader does understand something, Natalie is too far behind. She doesn’t understand why her ex-boyfriend would pretend to not know who she is when she has clearly already established that there are two different worlds, and he probably genuinely doesn’t know her in one of them.

Third: secondary characters. The psychologist Natalie finds to help her figure out the whole different worlds thing is incredibly flat. Natalie’s best friend has some quippy replies in conversation, but she doesn’t spend a whole lot of time becoming a real character. She’s just an instrument to make Natalie sad more than anything. We get Natalie, and we get Beau. Everyone else is just scene dressing.

Finally: the storytelling theme. I liked this bit. I liked the vast differences in stories from different Native American tribes and backgrounds. I liked that story was a theme that tied Natalie and Beau, and Natalie and her hometown, and Natalie and her relationship to her parents, friends, classmates, etc. The book really is a story within a story within a story, and that complexity, however clumsily executed, is ambitious.

The ending is (probably intentionally) vague, but it is also frustrating. We are given the meaning of the worlds, and Natalie goes out to Fix Everything and then…fade to black. I’m sure that we are supposed to stitch together our own ending: what do you think happened? What do you think it means? But it seems to incomplete, too untidy for such a story.

Add to that some clumsy metaphors like: “Growing up, being stretched and stamped and squeezed though life like homemade noodles cranked through a pasta maker.” (pg. 248) and “She’s like a silverware divider with a conscience, trying to keep us all separate and safe without making the forks feel bad about not being spoons or the spoons feel worried the forks shouldn’t be so poky.” (pg. 253) and this book just wasn’t my favorite.

My Grade: C-

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