Book Review: The Love that Split the World

love that split the world cover

Henry, Emily. The Love That Split the World. Razorbill, 2016.

Kentucky isn’t a glamorous state. The weather changes frequently–you can go to work sporting a cardigan on a frigid morning and find yourself sweating as the temperature rises at day’s end. While there are certainly beautiful natural landmarks and caves and hiking trails, there are none of the big tourist attractions you might find in other states.

I’ve lived in Kentucky my entire life. While I love to travel and experience the bustle and chaos of larger, notable locations, I have a profound love for and loyalty to the Bluegrass State. That’s why I felt both proud and giddy as I began Emily Henry’s The Love That Split the World. Set in Union, Kentucky, the novel highlights many Kentucky and Appalachian attributes–rich cultural history, oral storytelling, and strong familial ties–without falling into overused tropes and stereotypes. And the Kentucky native in me squealed at the sprinkling of Kentucky-specific details: mentions of the University of Kentucky, Northern Kentucky University, and Ale-8 One (a soft drink sold only in Kentucky and a small number of surrounding areas).

Natalie Cleary is closing the book on her high school career. While she participates in the traditional parades and Senior Nights that the end of the school year entails, she is also looking to what lies ahead. She has been admitted to Brown University where she hopes to study history and learn more about her heritage. Adopted at birth by doting parents, Natalie is Native American and feels out of place beside her blonde, blue-eyed siblings. She is also feeling a lack of connection toward the activities and people she once loved–her ex-boyfriend, Matt, friend Rachel, and her high school dance team.

Natalie’s race isn’t the only thing that makes her feel different. Since childhood, she’s had nightly visits from a phantom–an elderly woman she has come to call Grandmother. Grandmother imparts wisdom in the form of fables and tall tales, and Natalie is comforted by her presence. After a visit with a psychologist, Natalie fears Grandmother has finally disappeared; however, as high school ends, Grandmother reappears with a chilling message: Natalie has just three months to save him. She doesn’t specify who him is, and Natalie is on-edge. Shortly after the visit, Natalie’s world begins to change. Sporadic flashes reveal a second, strikingly different Union than the one that Natalie has known her entire life. While her friends and family exist in the new Union, she does not. While in this new world, Natalie encounters Beau, a boy who does not exist in her world. As she and Beau try to sort out their unique predicament, Natalie is frantic to decipher Grandmother’s cryptic warning. Will she be able to save the mysterious him?

The transition from high school to adulthood is a complex time, and Henry does a fantastic job capturing all of Natalie’s angst and confusion. Natalie wants to maintain relationships with the people and traditions she has come to love while, at the same time, she knows she must assert her own independence and find her place in the world. All the characters are round and multi-faceted. I especially enjoyed NKU professor Alice Chan, Natalie’s twin siblings Jack and Coco, even Natalie’s Saint Bernard, Gus.

While the characterization, imagery, and plot in The Love that Split the World were all fantastic, I often found the rules and nuances of Natalie’s time-bending abilities confusing and difficult to follow. Perhaps this will be clearer for readers who are more familiar with time travel fiction or media. In my case, I simply had to accept Natalie’s abilities as the story unfolded.

I would love to introduce this book to my students–positive portrayals of Kentucky are increasingly difficult to find. That aside, this book would be relatable to graduating seniors, adopted students, or anyone who is facing a big transition. The Love that Split the World discusses what it means to love deeply and unconditionally, a topic worth thinking about and discussing.


Book Review: Always and Forever, Lara Jean

always and forever lara jean cover

Han, Jenny. Always and Forever, Lara Jean. N.p: Simon & Schuster, 2017. Print.

The conclusion of the school year is an exciting time. I’ve always found the rituals satisfying—entering my final grades, cleaning out my classroom, and attending the graduation ceremony. Once my students cross the stage and receive their diploma, I become laser focused on sleeping late and compiling a fantastic summer reading list.

I sometimes forget, then, that those same graduates are facing a daunting task: the decision of what they will do—and who they will become—for the rest of their life.

This is perhaps what drew me to Jenny Han’s Always and Forever, Lara Jean. The book’s synopsis spoke of a protagonist who was navigating the murky waters of college applications and the maintenance  of friendships and romantic relationships outside of high school. I’d also seen the book frequently on Instagram and Goodreads as it was the long-awaited conclusion to a series. Admittedly, I have not read the books that preface this one; however, I feel it did not impact my understanding of Lara Jean’s story.

Lara Jean Song Covey is cherishing her final months of high school. Life is perfect—she has a loyal and dedicated group of friends, a close-knit relationship with her two sisters and father, and a sweet and doting boyfriend named Peter. All that she lacks is the confirmation that she has been admitted to her dream school, the University of Virginia. Peter has already been admitted on a lacrosse scholarship, and she fantasizes about what their lives will be like once they are college students. Her older sister and friends warn her not to follow a boyfriend to college, but Lara Jean shakes off this suggestion.

Her world is shattered, then, when she is not accepted to UVA. Heartbroken, she settles for a nearby university, William & Mary, and hopes that she and Peter can commute back and forth to spend time together. This plan is soon compromised as Lara Jean gains admittance to a larger, more selective college that is further away. Lara Jean feels like this might be the right fit for her; however, the distance means she will see her family and boyfriend even less. Will Lara Jean ignore her intuition and stay close to home? Will her relationship with Peter deteriorate under the pressure?

Although this is the first novel I’ve read by Han, I can tell she is a master of imagery. It was the little details that jumped out at me—the chewiness of Lara Jean’s cookies, the swiss dots on her graduation dress, the pink tulle on her prom gown, the expansive lawns and regal old buildings in the various colleges she visited, etc. Lara Jean is a girl who appreciates the little things, a trait that is evidenced by her love of cooking, crafting, and scrapbooking. The barrage of sensory detail, then, felt true to her character.

My biggest complaint is that, at times, Lara Jean felt like she was slipping into Mary Sue territory. She was universally adored, made stellar grades, and was part of a well-to-do family. Her problems felt trivial when compared to some my eighteen-year-old students face every day. I even found myself rolling my eyes at her naivete during my read. Like I mentioned earlier, I haven’t read the previous two books about Lara Jean, so it’s possible she’s had severe struggles that are unknown to me.

Still, I can see this book being a popular addition to a classroom library, especially with teen readers who love the Nicholas Sparks brand of romances. This book ultimately teaches readers that, with a little effort, they can pursue the things that make their heart sing while maintaining ties to the people they love. That is surely a sentiment that would bring a lot of peace to a graduating senior.