I want to be as honest and constructive as possible in this review, while also being fair to the author (Emily Henry), my fellow Bookstagrammers and Book Bloggers, as well as myself… Did your unease ratchet up a bit just now? Yeah, I read that sentence – it’s akin to the dreaded “we need to talk…” isn’t it?
Well, this is where that honesty comes in. You don’t have to agree with me, but I’d feel like I was being untrue to myself if I didn’t explain (or at least try to explain) exactly why this book didn’t really do it for me.
YA = sci-fi (kind of…?), romance, and mystery
This is, in part, a teen identity story, so it will most likely resonate with young adults; however, it’s sweet and applicable enough to also be enjoyable to older adults. Especially if those older adults like to reminisce about their younger years.
Natalie Cleary has been plagued by nightmares since she was little, seen things that aren’t there – things that no one else can see – and in the summer after she graduates from high school, it gets worse. One of her regular apparitions, fondly know as “Grandmother”, appears to her and serves up a cryptic and ominous warning before disappearing from Natalie’s life. “You have three months to save him”. Faced with an ongoing identity crisis, the loss and discovery of love and friendship, and an enigmatic boy that shows up literally out of nowhere, Natalie must race to reconnect with Grandmother, solve the mystery of her visions, and save a life of an unknown individual before time runs out.
I’ve never been to Kentucky, but this book makes it sound beautiful. Remember a couple reviews back where I explained that this is one of the things I both love and hate about books? Their (or rather the author’s) uncanny ability to make everything seem breathtaking and stunning and serene, when that’s not always the case in reality? Yes, sometimes it is. But sometimes it isn’t. I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve had the chance to visit, but this book made me think that I could live in Kentucky and be entirely at peace there 🙂
The characters in this book were pretty true to what you’d imagine high schoolers to be like – a diverse group of angst, experimentation, confidence, troubles, anxiety, freedom, I really could go on and on. I say “imagine”, because I didn’t really know people like this in high school or at least I wasn’t close with any of my classmates that could potentially fall into these classifications (at least not to the level they were portrayed in the book). Hence the “imagine”. In fact, in reading this, I almost felt regretful. Like I missed out on a “true” high school experience. But oh well. Everyone’s teen years are different. I also felt like almost every single song ever written by T-Swift (with the exception of those on her latest album) would have been applicable throughout the story (okay, I’ll go ahead and add “Out of the Woods” to this designation). Do with that what you will.
What I Liked
I loved the writing! It was consistently beautiful and thoughtful and I had the urge to write down (or take pictures of, let’s be real) my favorite lines more than a few times. It all felt so profound, yet in order to truly classify it as such, I think I’d need to take a slightly closer look – because “profound” isn’t a word I throw around lightly. Here’s a taste:
“God is a thing I think I see in glimmers all over: an enormous and vague warmth I sometimes catch pulsing around me, giving me shivers and making tears prick my eyes; a mysterious and limitless Thing threaded through all the world and refusing to be reduced to a name or a set of rules and instead winding itself through millions of stories, true and made up, connecting all breathing things.”
-Emily Henry, The Love That Split The World
Yeah – there’s plenty more where that came from.
I also liked the love story. I peeked at goodreads to see if anyone shared my overarching concerns and intangible feelings of discomfort with this book (which have nothing at all to do with the romance) and I was surprised by how many people really do not like the whole “insta-love” thing. I’ll share a secret with you. I have no problem with insta-love popping up in books. None. Zero. I like them just as much as the slow-burn love. Of course, there are varying degrees of insta-love, some more far-fetched than others and I get that it can be a tiring trope that comes up over and over again. But my marriage happens to be a product of what I’m sure our friends would call insta-love 😀 Sorry, not sorry. Eight years ago, my husband and I met on our very first day as undergrads and we hit it off so well and so quickly that our dorm mates thought we knew each other before coming to school. Sometimes insta-love happens and it works out and great! Sometimes it happens and it fails miserably and that’s okay too! The exact same can be said for the slow-burn romance.
What I Liked a Little LOT Less
Honestly, this book left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Not for the insta-love. Not for the lack of relatability (due, in turn, to my semi-sheltered high school experience). Not for the lack of resolution at the end (which bugged me a ton, because I prefer my books to have closure, but that’s personal preference and not reflective of the quality of the book). Not even for the shaky science (although I thoroughly enjoyed debating the theories and ideas behind quantum mechanics with my husband, who is a mechanical engineer).
What made me uncomfortable was the fact that Emily Henry incorporated Native American folktales and beliefs so centrally in her story. Now, I don’t know if Emily Henry is part Native American. You don’t actually have to be part Native American to write about them or incorporate aspects of their culture into your writing. I’m well aware of freedom of speech and creativity. What you should do though, is consult elders and/or scholars from whatever tribe you’re writing about to 1) seek their permission to use their culture in your work and 2) make sure you do it justice. If you’re going to do it, be sure you do it right. Heads-up, they might say no to your request (as is entirely their right), and in my opinion, their wishes should be respected. It’s their culture and beliefs and knowledge. The same culture, belief, and knowledge, by the way, that they were punished (severely) for practicing. To her credit, Henry did include acknowledgements for some of the stories she incorporated – but not all of them. And her sources aren’t individually named either. All her other acknowledgements were mentioned specifically by name. Were individuals from each tribe consulted? I just don’t know. And therein lies the crux.
And, in case you’re wondering, I’m not Native American. I’m part Native Hawaiian (a descendant of the indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands) and many of us (not all) have very similar feelings surrounding cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. Which is why I would’ve felt remiss in not speaking my mind in this review.
Again, beautiful writing. But as Henry herself wrote:
“Grandmother wanted me to love the stories, to take them into my heart through my ears and let them become a part of me, connecting me to all the people who told them before. It feels disrespectful just to give them away on a sheet of notebook paper.”
I just wish she had taken her own advice. I’m definitely not doing this topic justice, but if you’d like to learn more about cultural appropriation, I suggest you take a look at Native Appropriations and/or American Indians in Children’s Literature.
Overall, I’d give TLTSTW 3/5 stars. The only things that saved it for me were the romance and the writing. But at least I’ve let you know why I didn’t like it and now you can form your own opinion(s).