“And because she jumped, our world began.”
I steer completely clear of fantasy. I avoid sci-fi like the plague. TV shows, movies, conversations, and especially books, everything outside the realm of realism agrees with me about as well as two south poles of magnets. Why? Well for one, and I suppose most simply, I just don’t get it. My mind isn’t wired to work in such a way that fathoms the extraordinary. Two, I’ve always found it harder to appreciate works of art that (so I thought) can’t directly apply to the world around me. Time travel, spirits, second worlds—what? Like I said, two south poles.
So when I picked up Emily Henry’s The Love that Split the World, a contemporary YA novel that encompasses all of the aforementioned characteristics, every part of my being fought against it. Little did I know at the beginning of this week that the things I thought I once hated could make me feel things I didn’t know existed.
Natalie Cleary is graduating high school, headed to Brown University, and terribly over her hometown just like the rest of us who’ve graduated—except not really. While much of Natalie’s world is normal—she has to deal with separating from her best friend, school-related drama, and fighting her feelings for her ex—the majority of it is anything but. The world as she sees it is not the world she thought she knew. Scenery changes before her eyes; the people closest to her become strangers; and as if that wasn’t enough, she suffers from period supernatural hallucinations. Grandmother, a mythical figment in Natalie’s life who may or may not be real, tells her one night that she has to save him. She has three months, and she has to save him. Who, Natalie must figure out, is he? As if that wasn’t complicated enough, Natalie’s world is forever changed when she meets Beau, and together they must decipher and mend the broken world in which they’ve been condemned to live.
YA is the single most important category of novels, and I will continue to stand by this statement until the day I die. It’s written for a reason, sometimes for enjoyment, but almost always something deeper; and it’s written for the most impressionable and capable group of people this world has to offer. The Love that Split the World truly, truly proves my point. It’s not just a story about a girl, or a boy, or love, or fantasy, or anything. At its best, this novel raises some of the most important and unfathomable philosophical questions pondered by man. Who/What is God? If God is a mental construct, then who is to say he/she/it is ever the same for two different people? Because the existence of everything, and I do mean everything is subjective to an individual’s perception, can we go as far as saying there is one single truth, one single world, one single ANYTHING? Does that make time—“Time is an illusion, Natalie, relative to the person experiencing it.”—untrue, or inconclusive? I’ll stop there, but I could go on and on and on, filling the page with important questions that Henry successfully raises in TLTSTW, aiding in making YA the most important type of novels everrrrrrrr. Even a full day after finishing, I’m in awe and confused out of my mind at the profundity of our unfathomable world. Our (possibly) very unreal world… so… like *gasps* fantasy?!?!
The philosophical nature of the novel is its strongest point, but with every high comes a low. I couldn’t help but feel bogged down by the mundanity of the subplot, which maybe wasn’t so secondary when you take into account how heavily it blead through all aspects of the storyline. The high school drama, ex-boyfriend back-and-forth love confusion, and the overall ordinariness of events that I’ve read time and time again in YA left me feeling bored. In many instances I didn’t see how much of it fit with the novel’s theme, or Henry’s goal. Maybe this is more a critique of contemporary fiction than it is Emily Henry—I will never, I repeat, never get used to the fact that we’ve evolved to mentioning Harry Styles in literature—but the more I read the more exhausted I am with how ordinary it all is. Maybe this is just a product of me getting older, or reading too much YA contemp., or I could just be ranting about nothing which is most typically the case; but nevertheless, I found myself skimming chapters that didn’t include Beau, Alice, or Grandmother more frequently than I’d like to admit.
I thought I had a rough idea of where the story was going from the beginning, but the profundity of the last few chapters made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the novel. Despite the confusion raised in illustrating Natalie’s otherworldly experiences—maybe I read them too quickly, or maybe they managed to go over my head, but the specifics are still a bit cloudy—by the end of the novel I was feeling something. I could feel the love Natalie had for Beau, and Grandmother, and even the broken world of hers which she tried to hate but couldn’t. It’s freaking beautiful, really. Love is finding someone who shares the same reality as you, one where you can build a life together, and being happy despite the complications. All of the questions raised by Grandmother might not have answers, and even though the human in me might be dying for them, not knowing is a type of feeling that deserves credit, too. Sacrifice isn’t an emotion that should be understood, but an action that should be felt. That’s why the mundane subplot doesn’t matter, or the confusion I felt more times than not. My skepticism over the lack of literary merit in contemporary YA, or my contempt for the fantastic and extraordinary. None of it matters even in the slightest. Grandmother said it best when she encouraged Natalie to feel the stories she told, not make sense of them. At the end of the day a novel isn’t good because it you like the plot, or the genre, or the characters, but because you can walk away feeling something, and that is why I loved TLTSTW. Understanding the world does not come from knowing the facts, but from experiencing the emotions brought on from our personal, subjective reality.
After constructing this (much too) long review, I feel a bit naïve for writing off fantasy entirely. It can all be taken as a metaphor for reality—I’M THE METAPHOR QUEEN. IT’S IN MY BONES AND MY BLOOD AND MY CELLS AND MY PARTICLES AND MY E V E R Y T H I N G, SO HOW COULD I NOT HAVE FIGURED THIS OUT SOONER?!!?!—and I truly believe metaphor is the best extension of reality we have at our disposal. I know I’ll continue to stick with realism just because it takes a lot to teach an old dog new tricks; but despite this, I’m more than thrilled that I decided to give The Love That Split the World a shot. Emily Henry left me reveling at the profundity of the world, but also feeling happy and warm and LOVED, and that is all an author can ever hope to accomplish.