Emily Henry’s The Love That Split The World is an introspective novel that combines fantasy and science fiction elements with romance, humor, Native American creation stories, and mythology. It is a coming of age novel that is relatable through its key elements of searching for identity and wanting to belong, while still being true to your personality and goals.
The story follows protagonist Natalie Cleary, who is graduating from high school in a small town in Kentucky. She is waiting to escape to Rhode Island where she will study at Brown University. Since she was young, Natalie had nightmares of black orbs, men in green jackets, women painted as clowns, and an ancient Native American spirit that asks to be called Grandmother. Ever since her EMDR therapy, which was used to treat post-traumatic stress, she has not seen them. On her last day of high school, Grandmother visits again and even though it has been three years for Natalie, it has only been moments for Grandmother.
Grandmother, her longest lasting friend, usually tells her creation stories. However, one night she gives her a cryptic message: she has only three months to save him and to find Alice Chan. Soon, Natalie starts seeing the wrong things: people vanishing and reappearing, buffalo where the school should be, buildings that have changed, and people who she knows but do not know her. Through her senior week and to the last weeks of summer, Natalie works with Dr. Chan to figure out what is happening to her and save the “him” Grandmother refers to with the help of a mysterious and captivating boy named Beau.
This novel is told through first person narrative, which allows the reader to connect with Natalie’s thoughts and feelings. Natalie is very introspective and is affected deeply by others, which impacts the way the story is told. Much of the research about these appearances she has seen is rooted in the field of psychology and in supernatural forces, such as psychic phenomena. It is interesting to follow Natalie’s thoughts about her circumstances as the story unfolds.
As an adopted child, Natalie struggles with her identity and belonging. She felt the need for popularity in order to survive however, after Grandmother left, she quit all the activities she participated in, left her boyfriend, and focused solely on leaving Kentucky for a fresh start. She wonders what it is like to look like your parents and about being different from everyone else, but similar in ways they do not see. Natalie develops from not believing in the creation stories, to telling those stories orally the way they were originally told. She grows more comfortable with herself and the concept of being loved and having loved others.
Natalie is a dynamic, interesting character and the premise of her story is great. The science fiction and fantasy elements are well developed and paced the story well however, sometimes her high school struggles were solved too quickly or were dragged out. The ending will most likely need another glance as the complex elements of the novel are told rather quickly and the last chapter adds some confusion.
The Love That Split The World is a creative novel with an intriguing premise that combines multiple genres, told by a dynamic character, and leads to a good read.
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