"A time-bending suspense that's contemplative and fresh, evocative and gripping."—USA Today
"Henry's story captivates, both as a romance and as an imaginative rethinking of time and space."—Publishers Weekly
"This time-traveling, magical, and beautifully written love story definitely deserves a spot on your bookshelf."—Bustle
Emily Henry's stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler's Wife and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we've left untaken.
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 preschool 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.
Then there are the visits 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.
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The night before my last official day of high school, she comes back. I feel her in my room before I even open my eyes. That’s how it’s always been.
“Wake up, Natalie,” she whispers, but she knows I’m awake—if a fly buzzed in the hallway, I’d wake up—just like she knows the drooling, snoring rug of a Saint Bernard at the foot of my bed, the watchdog Mom and Dad got to help me sleep better, will keep drooling and snoring through our entire conversation.
I open my eyes on darkness, push back the covers, and sit up. The crickets are thrumming outside my window, and the blue-green moonlight shines through the foliage across my carpet.
There she is, sitting in the rocking chair in the corner, as she has every time she’s visited me since I was a little girl. Her ancient features are shrouded in night, her thick, gray-black hair loose down her shoulders. She wears the same ash-colored clothes as always, and though it’s been nearly three years, she looks no older than the last time I saw her, or even the first time I saw her. If anything, she might look a little younger. Probably because I’m older, and generally less terrified of wrinkles and age spots than I used to be.
I contemplate screaming—twisting the knob on the bedside lamp, doing anything my eighteen years have taught me will make Them disappear, just to teach her a lesson for leaving me for so long, for letting me think she was finally gone for good.
But despite my bitterness, I don’t want her to vanish, so I stay still.
“Nice of you to stop by,” I whisper. The words hurt my throat, which hasn’t woken up yet. My vision’s still settling too, piecing together the wrinkled details of her face, the laugh lines around her mouth, and the sweet crow’s-feet at the corners of her dark eyes. “Where have you been?”
“I’ve been right here,” she says. It’s one of her typical, cryptic answers.
“It’s been almost three years.”
“Not for me it hasn’t.”
Again—for the thousandth time—I survey her tattered shawl and the threadbare dress hanging on her bony body. “No,” I say, “you’re outside of time, aren’t you?”
Her right shoulder shifts in a shrug. “Your words, not mine. Have any others come to see you?”
I rub the heels of my hands over my eye sockets, stalling for time. I’m ashamed to admit that no one’s come and that I know exactly why. Though I want to be mad at her for abandoning me, it’s my fault I haven’t seen her in three years. I caused her disappearance. But it doesn’t matter whether I admit it or not—she already knows everything anyway. As if to prove that point, she says, “I think Gus farted.”
I lean over the bed and look down at the shaggy dog. His tongue is lolling in his sleep, and his perpetually oozing nose is busily sniffing. One of his back legs starts to kick in response to a dream, and the horrible smell she must’ve been referring to hits me.
I cover my nose with my forearm. “Ugh, Gus. You’re a monster, and I love you, and you’re disgusting.”
I wait for the worst of the odor to pass before I answer her question. “There haven’t been others. They’re all gone. Dr. Langdon thought the EMDR therapy worked. She said that’s why you stopped coming. Apparently any trauma I had was resolved. I’m a lucky girl. Or I was until five seconds ago.”
EMDR: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s a type of psychotherapy used to treat the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and, in my case, to shut out the woman in front of me and the various others who’ve appeared at my bedside over the years.
She thinks for a moment. “You know, just a moment ago—a moment for me, that is, three years for you—I told you something about Dr. Langdon. Did you pass it along?”
I keep staring hard at her.
“Do you remember what I told you, Natalie?” she presses.
I nod once. “You said she would die in a fire.”
“She’s still alive,” I supply. “She also suggested I try Ativan, though of course Mom didn’t approve. Apparently this is just a stressful time in a teenager’s life.”
God—the private name I gave her years ago, though she insists I call her Grandmother—laughs and looks down at her weathered hands, folded in her lap. “Girl, you have no idea.”
“Were you ever my age?” I ask.
Her thick eyebrows rise up over her cloudy dark eyes. “Yes,” she says quietly.
“And it was stressful?”
She jams her mouth shut. “When I was your age, I knew nothing. Nothing about myself, nothing about the universe or about heartbreak. I remember being terrified to grow up, afraid of losing my friends, sure I’d lose my mind. Life felt like a blender that wanted to eat me. But the things that happened to me when I was just a little bit older than you are—those things made the blender feeling seem like a bubble bath.”
I look down at the tear in my quilt. Mom made this blanket from a pattern while my birth mother was pregnant with me. It was going to belong to a different baby, from an adoption that fell through. Instead, it became mine when I became my parents’. “I missed you,” I tell Grandmother.
“I missed you too.”
“I thought you said it was only a minute for you.”
For a while we’re both silent, staring at one another. Then she asks, “How are the twins?”
“Good,” I tell her. “Coco’s transferring to a performing arts high school next year. Jack’s still playing football. Mom’s so proud of us all that she’s liable to explode any day now, so that’s good. At the end of summer she and Dad are taking us to San Francisco then up to Seattle.” The trip is a tradition they’ve had since they got married. Mom had never really traveled anywhere before, and her only reservation about marrying Dad was that she knew he loved Kentucky so much he’d never leave. They were poor then, but Dad still promised they’d see the world, or, at the very least, the continental U.S. Thus the annual Cleary Family Road Trip was born.
Grandmother closes her eyes for a long moment, and their corners crinkle prettily when they open. “I thought this year was Boulder down through Denver and into Mesa Verde,” she says. “Jack gets food poisoning, and Coco won’t eat anywhere that’s not a chain after that.”
“That was last year,” I say. “This year it’s all Highway 101. Probably a good time to buy stock in Dramamine, if you’re looking for a hot tip.”
“And you? How are you?”
“I’m great. Moving to Rhode Island in August, to go to Brown—but you probably already knew that.”
She nods, and again we fall into stillness and silence. I’ve missed this feeling, of sitting awake at night with her while the rest of the world dreams. The last three years have felt chaotic without these moments of quiet.
“Is it true that God leaves you when you grow up?” I ask. “Is that why I haven’t seen you?”
“I’ve never said I was God.”
It’s true—she’s avoided the question of what exactly she is since she first appeared when I was six, and not for lack of my asking, guessing, and hypothesizing.
Before Grandmother, the hallucinations had all been terrifying: black orbs floating a foot over my nose, grizzled men in green jackets with eyes like endless pits, women painted like clowns posing at my bedside. When they came, I’d scream, reach for the light, but by the time my parents came running to my bedroom door, the things would be gone, evaporated into the walls as though they’d never come at all.
“It was just a nightmare,” Mom would assure me, running her long fingers through the tangles in my hair. Then Dad would get blankets from the hall closet and make a nest on the floor beside their bed, and I’d finish the night in their room.
But when Grandmother appeared beside me that first time in the dead of night, things felt different. It’s not like I had an extensive vocabulary for the spiritual or metaphysical—my family is the “church twice a year” type, and those biannual visits have never done anything for me—but I also never had any aversion to the concept of God Itself, just to the idea that we could possibly nail down all Its details.
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.
And I’d given Grandmother that nickname not because I thought she was that Thing but because I saw It in her, and knew she belonged to It. I had no other word at my disposal that could encompass a being who came out of the walls to protect me from the dark.
While The Shining-esque visitations hadn’t been enough to make my parents take me to a shrink, an elderly American Indian celestial being showing up to tell me creation stories had. When I’d mentioned Grandmother over breakfast, Mom immediately left the kitchen to call Dad. It was obvious I’d done something wrong—I just didn’t know what until a week later, when Mom got home from her meet-and-greet with a child psychologist and had her first talk with me.
“It’s only natural to wonder about your heritage, honey,” she’d said, voice shaking. It sounded like a line from one of the You Were a Special Gift books she read to me as a toddler, in lieu of the more devastating “You’re adopted” speech some other kids I knew got later. “It’s okay to explore your identity.”
“My eyes were open,” I told her then. “I wasn’t dreaming. Grandmother’s real.”
I couldn’t convince Mom or Dad or Dr. Langdon, but I still knew: Grandmother was real. And she may have never admitted to being God, but I knew she was something, or a part of something, sublime.
“Fine,” I say, “the Great Spirit, the Above Old Man, the Earth Maker, or Holitopa Ishki, or whatever exactly you are or call yourself—just answer the question. Are you going to leave me now that I’m an adult or . . . whatever it is I am?”
Grandmother’s mouth tightens. She stands, and my heart starts to pound—she’s never stood before, in all the dozens of nights she’s come to me. She crosses the room, perches on the edge of my bed, and takes my hands in hers. Her skin is impossibly soft, like velvet, like powdered sediments or antique silk.
“This,” she says, “may be the last time you’ll see me, Natalie. But I’ll always be with you.”
I blink back tears and shake my head. My oldest friend in the world, someone who doesn’t exist according to all the experts, who is only and fully mine. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise. I’m leaving for Brown in three months. Soon, that rocking chair, this bedroom, the rolling blue hills of Kentucky will all be things of the past. Did I really think she’d come with me? Still, I hear myself ask her, “Why?”
She smooths my hair back from my forehead, the same way Mom always does. “Lie down, girl. I’m going to tell you one last story, and I want you to listen well. It’s important.”
“It’s always important.”
“It is always important.” She returns to the rocking chair, stopping to scratch behind Gus’s ear when he lets out an unconscious whimper. She sits and clears her throat. “This is the story of the beginning of the world, and the woman who fell from the sky.”
“I’ve heard that one before,” I remind her. “Actually, I’m pretty sure it was the first story you ever told me.”
She nods. “It was the first, and so it’ll be the last, because now you’ve learned to listen.”
Learn to listen, listen with your bones, let the story fill you. Things she’s always saying. Honestly, I have next to no clue what she’s talking about, partly because I only ever see her in the middle of the night when my brain’s full of fog, and partly because her voice is the phonic equivalent of a music box playing “Clair de Lune,” so soothing that the words get lost in the blanket of the sound. I lie back and close my eyes, letting that voice wash over me now.
“There was an old world that came before ours,” she begins, “a world that had never before seen death. And in that world there was a young woman who was very strong and very strange. The woman’s father was the first person to die in the world, and even after he did, she would speak with his spirit often. Death had opened her father’s eyes to all sorts of secrets the woman could not yet see, and because of this, his spirit told her to marry a stranger in a distant land whom he had chosen for her. So against her mother’s wishes, the young woman trusted her father’s spirit and journeyed to that distant land and presented herself to the stranger. This man was a powerful sorcerer, and he received the woman’s marriage proposal skeptically, since she was still very young and he would need a wife with strength and resolve. He decided that he would give her three tests, and if she should pass, then he would marry her.
“First, he took her into his lodge and gave her corn. ‘Grind this corn,’ he told her. And she took it and barely boiled it, and though there were many mounds of it, she ground it against the stone very quickly, and the sorcerer was amazed.
“For the second test, he ordered her to take off her clothing and to cook the corn over the fire. As she did, it popped and splattered on her, the mush burning her skin where it landed, but she didn’t flinch. She stood, unmoving, as the corn burned her until the mush was finished.
“For her final test, the sorcerer opened the door to his lodge and called to his beast servants, who came running, and he invited them to eat the mush from off her bare skin. And though their sharp teeth and tongues sliced and cut and repulsed her, she still remained serene and steadfast. So the sorcerer agreed to marry her.
“For four nights, the wed couple slept with the soles of their feet touching, and then the husband sent his wife back to her village with a great gift of meat for all her kin. He told her to divide it evenly among all the people in the village. He also told her that they should peel back their roofs so that he could bless them with a rain of white corn that night, and so she did, and it was so.
“When she returned, his lodge became her home too, and she began to spend her days with one particular tree that grew there. It was a tree with blossoms made of light so bright that they illuminated all of his land. The woman loved the tree—it made her feel less strange, less out of place—and she would sit under it and talk with all the spirits and with her dead father too. She loved it so much that once, late at night when everyone was sleeping, she went out and lay with it and became pregnant.
“Around that time, her husband grew sick, and none of the medicine people could heal him, but they all told him that the illness had been caused by his wife. He knew they were right; he’d never met a person as powerful as her. He asked them what he should do. Divorce didn’t exist there. The only death that had occurred was her father’s, and no one yet understood it. But the medicine people were wise, and they found a solution.
“‘Uproot the light tree,’ they told him, ‘and call her over to it, and trick her into falling into it. Then replace the tree, and your power will be restored.’
“That same day the sorcerer dug up the tree of light, but when he looked into the hole beneath it, he saw a whole other world below. He called to his wife, and when she came he said, ‘Look, lean over, there’s another world below us.’ She knelt beside the tree and peered down through the emptiness where the roots had been. At first she saw only darkness, but then, far below that, she saw blue, a shimmering bright blue that was beautiful. Full of hope and joy and dreams and the same kind of light that grew all through her tree. Here was the very source of all the light that had comforted her when she was lonely. She looked at her husband, smiling, and said, ‘Who ever would have guessed that the light tree was growing right over such a beautiful place?’
“He nodded. Then, carefully, he suggested, ‘I wonder what it’s like down there.’
“She said, ‘I wonder too.’
“He said, ‘Maybe someone could go down there and find out.’
“But his wife was shocked. ‘How could anyone do that?’ she asked.
“‘Jump,’ he said.
“‘Jump?’ she said, leaning over the hole again. She tried to guess how far below the new world was, but she had no idea. She’d never seen such a great distance, she was sure.
“‘Someone as brave as you could easily do it,’ her husband said. ‘Become a gentle breeze, or a petal or blossom from the light tree, or any number of things, and jump lightly and float down, or dive like a hawk, to that beautiful world below.’
“For a long minute she stared down into that glimmering blue, that endless blue of things she’d never seen, dreams she’d never dreamed. ‘I could jump,’ she said. ‘I could float. I could fall into the shining blue.’
“‘Yes, you could,’ her husband said. For another long minute, she stayed there, kneeling and gazing and meditating. Then she stood and flexed her hard muscles, bent her knees, raised her arms up high over her head, and dove down through the hole in her world into the beautiful blue.
“For a long while, the sorcerer—for he was no longer her husband now—watched her body tumble through the darkness. The medicine people who had advised him made their way toward his lodge and the hole where he stood. ‘She jumped,’ he told them, and then they all lifted the tree back into place and covered the hole that led to the new world.
“And because she jumped, our world began,” Grandmother concludes.
“Depending on who you ask,” I say, sitting up.
Grandmother tips her head. “Depending on who you ask.” About a third of the stories she’s told me are creation stories of some type, and no two are identical. I don’t know who all the stories belong to, precisely, although I can usually make a decent guess when the names are Squirrel and Corn Woman or Abraham and Isaac. “You know . . .” Grandmother takes a deep breath and glances down at her hands. “There’s a reason I’ve told you all these stories, Natalie.”
I sit up again. It’s not like I haven’t asked her a million times: Why do you show up in my room in the middle of the night to tell me these things? “You said the stories were the reasons.”
She sighs, and her voice becomes weaker, gruffer. “The stories matter. Separate from us, they matter. We are part of them, Natalie. We’re much smaller than them. But there’s another reason too.”
I see tears lining her dark lashes, and suddenly she seems so much younger. “What’s wrong?” I say. “Grandmother, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to scare you,” she says. “But you need to be prepared for what’s coming.”
Goose bumps prickle up along my arms as Grandmother buries her face in her hands, and I get out of bed to crouch in front of her. I’ve never seen her like this. I’ve only ever seen her the one way. She grips my hands hard, and her eyes find mine. “The stories,” she says. “It’s all in the stories.”
“Everything. The truth. The whole world, Natalie,” she says brusquely. “That girl jumped through the hole, not knowing what would happen, and the whole world got born. You understand that, right? The whole world.”
“I understand,” I lie, to calm her. Because I am scared now, and I need her to be the Grandmother I know, so I can be the child who’s soothed from her own fear of the dark.
“Good.” Her hand grazes my cheek. “Good. Because you have only three months.”
“What are you talking about—”
“Three months to save him, Natalie.”
“Save? Save who?”
Her eyes, immense and milky all of a sudden, dart over my shoulder, and her mouth drops open. “You,” she breathes. “Already—you’re already here.”
I look over my shoulder, neck alive with tingles, but no one’s there.
“Don’t be afraid, Natalie. Alice will help you,” Grandmother says. “Find Alice Chan.”
When I turn back, the rocking chair is empty, still nodding back and forth as though the ancient woman has just stood from it.
I’m alone again. I’m no longer the girl who talks to God.
I tumble out of bed and hurry to stop the shriek of my phone alarm. I don’t know how I got back to sleep after last night’s events, but apparently I did. The moonlight has faded, and the dim streetlights lining our cul-de-sac have popped on, sprinkling yellowy glares throughout the purple-blue of my dew-dampened windowpanes. The earliest birds and backfiring pickup engines are waking up, but the chirping crickets haven’t gotten the memo that this hellish hour is technically considered “morning.”
I flick the light switch of my walk-in closet, and Gus moos unappreciatively before turning over and going right back to sleep. I’m so jealous I throw a pillow at him, and would have immediately felt horribly guilty if not for the fact that he just lets out a snore and covers his eyes with one paw.
As exhausted as I am, I still can’t shake the fear left over from last night. For as long as I can remember, Grandmother’s been a force of calm in my life. I mean, her stories don’t tend to be happy or calming by any means, but her presence has always made me feel safe. Until last night.
What could she have been talking about?
My late-night Google trail of “Alice Chan” led to a dead end. It would seem that half the human population is composed of Alice Chans, each one less obviously significant than the last.
Three months to save him. I shake my head as if to clear the words.
I slip on a fitted black T-shirt dress and pull a denim jacket from a hanger on the top rack. It may be eighty degrees and ninety-nine percent humidity outside, but with Principal Grant in menopause, the school’s temperature is completely unpredictable. It’s best to be prepared. I survey the neat rows of heels that used to do something for me but now seem about as necessary as a pubic wig, and instead grab a pair of boots before walking back into my room.
Two of my walls are painted a ghastly orange, the other two a high-gloss black: Ryle High School’s colors. If that weren’t bad enough, one of the black walls has our mascot—the Raider, a one-eyed pirate with two swords crossed behind his head—taking up its majority. My bedding is white, and so are the tea-candle lantern and antique lamp on my desk. When I have headaches those are the three focal points I have to choose from, unless I feel like lying down inside my closet.
Mom and Dad decorated the room for me while I was away at dance camp the summer before seventh grade and already zealously looking forward to high school. Obviously the garish school-spirit color scheme was the best thing ever, until about a year ago, when I realized I had eyeballs, and it became just about the worst thing ever. With a better sound system and a few more Black Eyed Peas albums, my bedroom could give Guantanamo Bay a run for its money.
In the years since the original Makeover from Hell, I’ve also added my own touches: corkboards covered in notes from friends, shadow boxes full of dance team ribbons and medals, black-and-orange pompoms stuffed behind both my desk and my dresser, a dozen or so picture frames capturing carnivals and football games and dances.
There I am, a million times over, smiling back at myself: same coarse dark hair, deep brown eyes, and dark skin; same square face and high cheekbones. There I am kissing Matt Kincaid, for the four consecutive years I kissed Matt Kincaid. Standing in the gymnasium in the dead center of the dance team’s middle row, with all the other girls of perfectly average height. Hugging Megan and making that godforsaken Charlie’s Angels pose, in a completely nonironic way that can never be undone, all over Gray Middle School.
Since Grandmother disappeared, I’ve felt less and less like the girl in the photos, and more and more like I needed to get out of here. I quit the dance team, quit Matt, and ever since getting in to Brown, have started to quit Kentucky altogether. And now, three months away from my grand escape and new start, Grandmother’s visit has everything feeling messy again.
“NAT—JACK—COCO—BREAKFAST!” Mom shouts up from the kitchen, and my stomach flip-flops as I pass the rocking chair and head downstairs.
I’m usually the last one out of my room in the morning. Coco, being the very definition of efficiency, is always first to the breakfast table, doubling back upstairs a few minutes later to hurry Jack along as she sounds off a checklist of things he needs for school, while simultaneously texting, braiding her hair, or applying mascara. Without her, Jack would probably routinely walk out of the house without pants, and honestly, he’d also probably manage to have a pretty good day.
Downstairs, Jack has a plate full of only bacon, which he’s shoveling into his mouth with a fork. I’m pretty sure his eyes are closed. Across from him, Coco is texting over a bowl of fruit, her pretty blue eyes lined perfectly in clean layers of eyeliner and eye shadow. She looks exactly like Mom, except for her angular nose, which comes from Dad. I’ve always wondered what that must be like, to look like our parents.
One excellent thing about being adopted is that you always get to worry you’ll end up accidentally dating someone you share a gene pool with. If I were fully Native American, I wouldn’t have to think about that in a mostly white town like Union, but they tell me my biological father was white, so that complicates things.
Mom looks up from the stove, and she clamps a hand over her mouth and gasps like her sleeve’s just caught on fire. “Oh, honey. Look at you. You’re so beautiful.” She starts shaking out her loose strawberry blond waves as if it helps to fight back emotion, then holds out her arms. I shuffle forward reluctantly into the hug. “I can’t believe it’s your last day of high school! I remember the day we brought you home like it was yesterday.”
“Yeah, I was a real crybaby.”
“Oh, stop it, you were not. You were so quiet and so curious. That whole first night we just stayed awake looking at you, and you just looked back at us and didn’t make a sound—”
“Mom,” Jack says from the table.
“We knew you were special, and now look at what a smart, talented—”
“Mom, I think something’s on fire,” Coco says, without glancing up from her phone.
“What?” Mom spins back to the stove, immediately harried by the blackening omelet caked to her cast-iron skillet. “Shit.”
“I didn’t know you spoke French, Mom,” I say.
“Did you hear Mom say ‘shit’?” Jack asks Coco, his mouth full of more bacon.
“Yeah, she’s so weird,” Coco answers flatly. They’re polar opposites—Coco the goal-oriented perfectionist type and Jack the goofy, go-with-the-flow jock—and yet they’ve always been inseparable. I guess that’s what cohabitation in a womb for nine months does.
Mom waves a dishrag at the smoke plume. “Give me five minutes. I’ll make you another one.”
I pour myself a mug of coffee and step through the glass-paneled door onto the deck, where Dad stands, drinking coffee in his long-sleeved denim shirt, despite the hot morning mist. “Morning,” I say.
He flinches in surprise before turning back to me and ruffling my hair. “How you doin’, sugar cube?” I shrug, and Dad sets his mug down on the railing, folding his arms. “Nightmares?”
Dad has this way of knowing things, at least when it comes to me and horses, without understanding the nitty-gritty of how or why, but he won’t pry. I want to tell him everything, but I can’t speak, and I suddenly realize why: I’m terrified it’s him—what if it’s Dad I’m supposed to save?
I shake my head and lean out over the shadowy yard. Dad takes a long sip. “You remember those tantrums you used to have? I don’t know why, but I was just thinking about those. You’d lie down and scream and kick and bite and sob, no matter where we were.”
I sigh. “Some things never change.”
The sun peeks through the woods beyond our yard, turning everything golden at the fringes, even Dad’s brown eyes. It used to make me so happy when people who didn’t know any better would tell me I had his eyes. When I was little I thought maybe mine were the same shade as his because I really did belong so wholly with and to Dad.
“You know, when a horse bucks or bites, it’s just frustrated communication.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Is that so?”
He rubs the back of my neck like I’m a filly. “If you need to talk, I’ll always listen.” He kisses the crown of my head, then turns to go inside.
He turns back. “Yeah?”
It would be a relief to tell him about Grandmother’s warning, but I can’t get the words out. Sometimes it’s so hard to speak, scary even. My heart rate goes up, my hands shake, and it feels easier to keep things in the dark than to drag them into the light. “Be careful,” I manage.
Though he furrows his thick chestnut eyebrows, he doesn’t ask any questions. “For you, sugar cube, always.”
Three months to save him, and I don’t even know who. I’ve got to find Alice Chan.
I skip lunch and slip off to the bathroom, where I plug in my dying phone and resume my frantic Googling. I click through every result I can (Alice Chan the Local Dentist, Alice Chan the Criminal Lawyer Two Towns Over, Alice Chan the Professor at NKU) until the bell rings, then run back to my locker. I’m getting my things for class when I feel a pair of hands slide down around my eyes. “Guess who.”
“So close it’s insane.”
“Okay, give me a clue.”
“I’m one of your biggest fans.”
“I’m having a hard time, because the only thing that’s coming to mind other than Harry Styles is the ghost of River Phoenix, and I wouldn’t be able to feel his hands.”
Matt uncovers my eyes and leans against the locker beside mine, smiling that perfect golden-boy smile that not even the best orthodontist could’ve faked. His sandy hair’s pushed up off his forehead, and he’s sporting his football jersey. “Natalie Cleary, has anyone ever told you you’re really weird?”
“I think at some point that assessment even became Kentucky state law, which is partly why I’m going to college in Rhode Island.”
He sticks out his bottom lip. “I’m going to miss your weird.”
“Only because you were born without any.”
“Probably.” He holds my gaze for a little too long, and his fair skin starts to flush. We’ve been broken up for nearly a year, and we’ve both done our fair share of exploring since, but sometimes those old feelings seem ready to resurface.
As if prompted by my subconscious, which definitely knows I do not want to end up married to Matt Kincaid, living on his farm in Union, Kentucky, I break the silence with “Although your mom only eats beige food. That’s pretty weird.”
His forehead creases. “What are you talking about?”
“She told me she hates anything that’s green. She also once said the sentence ‘I don’t like fruit.’ ”
“Lots of people feel that way.”
“Yeah, people under the age of ten.”
“And, like, lots of people in general.”
“Anyway,” he continues, “I was just gonna see if you were going to Senior Night.”
“I am, in fact, a senior.”
“But you’re not on any teams anymore.”
“Yeah . . . ?”
“And you and I broke up.”
He rolls his eyes. “So you’re coming?”
“Okay, cool,” he says, smiling. “We should do something after. For old times’ sake.”
“Old times?” I say suspiciously. It’s not like Matt and I totally stopped hanging out when we broke up, but ever since we relapsed into old habits six months ago, for the third time, I’ve made it my solemn duty never to be alone with him outside school walls. The kiss itself had been fine, but the bottom line was, no matter how much I didn’t want to ruin our friendship, I did not want to keep dating Matt, and I was pretty sure he did want to keep dating me.
“I’m not sure ‘old times’ is what we should aim for, Matt.”
“Old, old times,” he clarifies.
Ah. That would put us squarely back in fifth grade, the dark ages before Matt Kincaid picked me to be his girlfriend and popular-girl counterpart. Even back then he was socially magnetic, the kid everyone wanted to be around, and his attention made me feel like the funniest, most interesting human on the planet.
Megan was already close with Matt, and soon he and I were friends too. By seventh grade, his glances became bashful, lingering, and that made me feel like the sun. It was another year before he kissed me, and four more until we broke up. By then, Grandmother had left, and I felt like a supernova mid–gravitational collapse, all the things I’d thought made me me falling away rapidly.
Matt tried to understand why I was withdrawing, why dance and popularity and school spirit had started to nauseate me. Truthfully, it wasn’t any of those things in and of themselves, and it wasn’t Matt himself either; it was what all those things brought out in me—the way that for years I did things I didn’t want to do, laughed at things that bothered me, went to parties I had no interest in because the thing that seemed most essential for my survival and happiness was being seen as Like Everyone Else in Union. Once I stopped fighting to be that person, Matt and I started fracturing. I ended things before they could get any worse, thus sentencing us to a life of perpetual though tolerable limbo.
He blushes at my lengthy silence. “You know, me, you, Megan. Everyone.”
“Okay, it’s a date, then.”
Why do I do that? Why do things like that just come out every time it feels like Matt and I are on the verge of moving forward? I try to make my voice light, teasing. “Yeah. You, me, Meghan, and the ghost of River Phoenix.”
“Who’s River Phoenix?”
I tilt my head at him. “Do you even have the Internet up on that farm of yours, Matty? What keeps you warm at night if not angst-ridden male celebrities who died before we were born?”
“Well, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect there are whole websites devoted to football too.”
“Duly noted,” he says. “Anyway, why do you care so much about this Phoenix guy when there’s a ghost haunting our very own Ryle High School band room?”
I gasp and grab his sleeve. “Wait—do you think River could be the Band Room Phantom?”
Matt rolls his eyes and opens his mouth, but before he can speak, I feel my stomach somehow rise up in my abdomen, and I double over, fighting against the sensation that I’m falling. The overhead lights cut out. The entire hall falls dark and silent. I swear under my breath and reach out for him, finding nothing but empty air. “Matt?”
The back of my neck prickles as the swarms of color fade, allowing my eyes to adjust. My heart starts hammering in my chest as my eyes try to tell me something impossible: Everyone has vanished. I’m alone in the nearly pitch-black hallway.
There’s a current in the air I’ve felt only in very specific moments of my life: the quivering charge of a dream breaking into reality, the same way the man in the green coat and the other hallucinations did before Grandmother came.
I’m dreaming. This is some new brand of hallucination, and, like always, it all feels too real, impossible and yet undeniable. I try to swallow but my throat’s too dry, and my arms are shaking as I shuffle forward, one palm sliding along the cool metal of the lockers. “Matt?” I call loudly. My voice echoes against the scuffed tile.
Something brushes my arm, and I stifle a half-choked scream as, all at once, the overhead fluorescents blink back on and everyone reappears.
“Oh, God.” I clutch my chest and try to ease my hyperventilation back into even breaths as my eyes register Matt’s faint freckles, his hand on my arm. His eyebrows pull together, and he glances over his shoulder, as if expecting to see a tornado barreling toward us.
“Nat?” He shakes my arm lightly. “You okay?”
“Power,” I pant. Matt tilts his head. “The lights just cut out.” And everyone disappeared.
“Huh.” He shrugs. “I must’ve missed it.”
I force my sandpaper throat to swallow. “Guess so.”
Matt looks around and lowers his mouth to my ear. “What’s going on, Nat?” he presses. “You can tell me.”
I take a step back from him, folding all my fear back down into the pit of my stomach. “Nothing. I’m fine.”
He sighs. “See you tonight.”
As he walks away, bumping his shoulder into Derek Dillhorn’s, I turn my eyes up to the light panels in the ceiling, watching, waiting. I don’t want to scare you, Grandmother said, but you need to be prepared for what’s coming.
After dinner, Jack and Coco ride back to Ryle with me in the Jeep, which is making a sound like there’s a cat stuck in the engine. “God, what do you think that is?” I ask them.
“I dunno,” Jack says. “Your radiator?”
“He doesn’t have a clue,” Coco says without looking up. “Hey, are you and Matt getting back together?”
“Why would you ask that?”
“Abby said he asked you on a date, and you said yes. I think that’s great.”
“Really? Because you sound like Stephen Hawking when he thinks something’s great.”
“That’s really mean, Nat,” Coco says flatly. “He can’t help that he sounds like that.”
“He doesn’t sound like that. His machine sounds like that. He could choose any voice he wants. It could sound like Morgan Freeman, if he wanted it to.”
“Could Matt get me on varsity if you guys got back together?” Jack says.
“Would you come home from college more often?” Coco says.
“That’s not how football tryouts work, Jack. More importantly, I’m not getting back together with Matt, and what the hell is making that sound?”
“The carburetor,” Jack says.
“He has no idea,” Coco says.
We park at the edge of the lot and make our way across the asphalt. There’s a slight breeze, but the humidity still has my hair and my dress clinging to every inch of me, and I’m hoping this night goes quickly so I can get back to the air conditioning.
I used to dream about this night.
We make our way down to the football field, whose bright white stadium lights beckon us like holy bug zappers. Parents have turned out in too-nice clothes, their formal wear too stifling for the heat, and have compensated for their inevitable body odor with too much cheeriness and zeal. I spot Rachel and the rest of the dance team just inside the chain link fence along the upper level, and they shriek and point and wave until I wave back and head over to them. Jack and Coco split off to find some of the freshmen from the football team and their popular girl friends and girlfriends to sit with.
“You guys look great,” I tell the Raiderettes. They’re performing tonight, so they’re dressed in full uniform and shimmering makeup, their hair slicked back in neat ponytails, their eyelashes impossibly long.
Rachel sticks out her bottom lip. “I wish you were dancing with us tonight. It’s still so weird to see you here out of uniform.”
“Yeah,” I stammer. “Pretty weird, but I needed the time to focus on school, and somehow you guys managed to plod on even without me in your back row. Anyway, good luck. Or break a leg. Or merde. Or just . . . whatever. Do some stuff, and do it well.”
I turn and make my way down the metal bleachers, and warm relief fills me when I spot Megan sitting at the edge of the girls’ soccer team. I go perch beside her. “Hi.”
“Hiiiiiiii,” she says, giving me a hug. “How are you?”
“Grandma’s in town.”
Her mouth drops open. “No way.”
I nod. I can trust Megan with Grandmother, because she’s the only one who really believes. More than anyone I’ve ever met, she believes in God and always has. And while God doesn’t talk to Megan quite how Grandmother talks to me, and our ideas of what God is aren’t identical, Megan didn’t bat an eye when I first told her my secret, because she believes in things that can’t be seen, and she loves me enough to think that if God were to appear on Earth, her best friend would obviously be the one It would appear to.
“Wow.” She gives me another quick squeeze. “Okay, you have to tell me everything.”
I nod again. The dance team is descending the bleachers in an even row, their poms behind their backs, elbows out to their sides, and chins held high. “I will,” I promise, “after Rachel shimmies us the meaning of life.”
And even as she does, there’s something magical hanging thick in the air tonight right alongside the humidity.
Maybe it’s the glow of the lights on the yellowing field or their glare on the bleachers. Maybe it’s the marching band in their white-feathered hats, all lined up to the left of the bright orange end zone, blaring out the fight song. They’re moving through the choreography like they’re all a little bit tipsy—not in a bad way. Like when Mom has a glass of red wine, how she walks with that sway. Normally she moves with perfectly upright posture, straight and aligned, as if she’s Miss October in the University of Kentucky Dance Team Calendar again, her pretty strawberry hair blown out around her by an off-camera fan.
But the wine makes her forget how to walk like that, or maybe she becomes just un-self-conscious enough to want to sway her hips. Either way, it’s nice, and the way the marching band’s playing the fight song, to no one but the home team, is kind of like that.
And all those feelings I forgot to feel today while I was at school, hugging people I’ve known forever and saying goodbye and promising to keep in touch, I’m feeling them now.
And then I think about Grandmother and how I may never see her again.
And I think about my front porch, and how many nights Megan and I sat out there when we were little, summer nights when we were sticky and dirty from playing, when Gus was just a puppy. All those evenings we played Ghosts in the Graveyard and tag with the neighborhood kids who went to St. Henry and St. Paul—and sometimes Matty, when his dad dropped him off after chores—until the sun dropped abruptly into the night.
And now I see fireflies in the grass down by the track that runs around the football field, and hovering around the hill sloping up the left side of the marching band—the very hill where I got my first kiss from Matt Kincaid, the quarterback himself, when we were in the eighth grade.
My eyelids are heavy, and the fight song is growing slower and slower, until suddenly, I must drift off, because there’s that abrupt falling sensation right through my middle, and then everything is gone.
Not the stadium or the field—but the sound, the band, the people. Even Megan.
Everything and everyone, except me and the crickets and those holy stadium lights.
As if another light is blipping into view, a person appears, out in the middle of the field. A boy, standing with his back to me, tall with broad shoulders, and long, kind of dirty dark hair. He’s holding a paper bag in his right hand, and he brings it up to his mouth, takes a swig of whatever’s inside, then tips his head back and looks up.
The silence is so big it makes the world swell, and the boy feels farther away than he possibly could be.
I follow his gaze upward, and the Kentucky sky seems miles higher than it ever has. There’s a waning crescent moon tonight, with a fair mix of clouds and a smattering of stars. I look back down at the boy’s shaggy hair, and his back and butt, trying to place him, but I can’t.
I’m dreaming about a stranger. I guess that’s not so strange, really. I’m reminded of that first time Grandmother appeared at my bedside, the way I should’ve been afraid and wasn’t, the way I knew to trust her and felt that I knew her, unlike all the visitors that came before her.
I stand and lean against the rail in the aisle between bleachers. I want to go down to the field, to stand with this boy between the sky and the grass until every part of me touches every layer of the world. It feels important, but even though I’m so sure this is a dream, I feel a little shy and embarrassed, like I won’t know what to say when I get down there.
But my need to get out there outweighs everything else. I go down one step, and the metal creaks under my foot.
The boy on the field must hear it, because he starts to turn around, but before I can see his face, everything snaps back into place: The fight song is ending; the crowd is shouting, clapping, cheering.
And he’s gone.
“Nat?” Megan shouts over the noise.
I’m standing in the aisle, holding on to the railing.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want to leave?” she asks. “We can go.”
“No,” I answer honestly, sitting back down beside her. I don’t want to take my eyes off that field. Something’s happening here, and I’m afraid to miss it.
“Are you sure?”
I nod. What I need is to stay, and to watch. I need to figure this out.
Besides, I may not be on any teams, but Megan is, and this night matters for her and for all the girls we’re sitting with.
After the dance team’s performance come senior awards for softball and baseball, followed by the cheerleading team’s performance, then senior awards for soccer, at which point I’m forced to elbow Megan in the rib cage because Brian Walters’s icy blue eyes are so blatantly staring at her. “He wants to have your glorious, blue-eyed babies,” I whisper.
“So as long as no one tells him he doesn’t have a uterus, I have a chance?” she murmurs back.
The next award is for archery, which is when Megan and I first discover Ryle has an archery team. Then comes basketball, and then a color guard performance, and then, finally, it’s time for the football awards.
Coach Gibbons approaches the podium to call the seniors down, and the crowd bursts into whistles and foot stomping. Matty stands at the far end, looking both handsome and sheepish, and all around like a Disney prince come to life in his neat jersey and nice jeans.
“Most of y’all know I’m a man of few words,” Coach starts off into the microphone. “But I say them slowly, and that helps.” An appreciative chuckle rumbles through the bleachers, and, true to form, Coach slowly, methodically starts speaking about each of the seniors and the ways they’ve contributed to the team.
I’ve always loved watching Matt play. He has a grace that most athletes just don’t have. You can be good at a sport without it—good, but not great. Mom says Dad had that grace with basketball, before he tore his ACL his first semester of college; he was on track for the NBA when it happened, Mom says. That’s always been hard for me to picture, since I’ve never known him as anything but a horse doctor and trainer. Honestly, he’s so good at that, it doesn’t seem possible or fair he could’ve ever had another talent of that caliber. Right now, all Jack cares about is football, but a part of me wonders what secret talents he might discover if he couldn’t play anymore—and then I try to cast that horrible thought from my mind so I don’t accidentally will an accident on my baby brother.
Getting lost in Matty’s big moment almost makes me forget about the dream, but then it happens again: a flicker on the field, right beside the eight seniors lined up next to Coach. Suddenly, at the end of the row, there’s a ninth. Only that’s not quite right, because every time he flashes into view, the others vanish, leaving only him.
Tall, broad-shouldered, full mouth, long dark hair, and serious hazel eyes.
The two images flicker alternatingly four or five times rapidly, as though two giant invisible hands are taking turns covering first the team, then the other boy. When the glimmering stops, it’s the team that remains in sight.
I look around the crowd, searching for signs that anyone else saw the ninth boy appear on the field, but everyone remains riveted by Coach’s speech, totally unbothered by the way the world just shuddered.
“Nat?” Megan whispers.
“Did you see him?” I ask.
“That guy on the field?”
Her blue eyes dart over to Coach, and she maneuvers her posture to see around either side of the podium, but when I look back to the field, the boy’s already gone.
“I’m going crazy.”
“You are not,” she whispers back. “You said Grandmother’s in town. Couldn’t it be one of her friends?”
“I don’t know if she has friends.”
“Of course she has friends. What do you think angels are?”
“I’m not sure she’s like that God.”
“She tells you stories from the Bible, doesn’t she?” Megan’s always acted like Grandmother is Jesus in a mask. I, on the other hand, have never known what to think about where her God ends and where mine begins. Sometimes when Megan talks about her faith, I think yes, exactly, but Grandmother’s stories have made me feel like the concept of God is too big for a book or a group of bodies lined up in pews or even a world religion. God is a thing I know when I see, and I see It all over, in Megan, in the night sky and the morning sun, and especially in Grandmother.
“Yeah . . . sometimes. But she also tells me stories about people named Squirrel and Chipmunk. Are those people from the Bible? Did Grandmother Spider steal fire in the Old Testament or New, because I thought that was a Choctaw story.”
Megan knocks her elbow into mine. “Fine, I don’t know how all this stuff fits together, but the point is, I know you. You’re not crazy. Grandmother’s real, and whatever’s happening to you now isn’t just a figment of your imagination. We’ll figure all this out, okay?”
I dig my teeth into my lip and nod. I slide my phone out of my purse to pick up where I left off on the ongoing Google search, and the battery icon onscreen practically frowns at me. Just then I remember the charger I left in my locker, with the rest of the stuff I planned to clean out next week.
I’m about to tell Megan I’m going to run up to the school and plug my phone in when Coach finishes his awards and the crowd erupts into applause. As soon as the football players start filing back up to the bleachers, everyone else stands to fan themselves and shake out their sweaty shirts. Matt bounds up the steps to us and hooks an arm around our necks, kissing the sides of both of our heads, though I can’t help but notice how long his friendly forehead kiss lingers on mine.
“Ew, you’re sweaty,” Megan says, pushing him off.
Ignoring her, he says, “You guys wanna go get food?”
“Sure,” I say. “I just need to get something from my locker first.”
“Better hurry; they’re gonna lock up as soon as they’ve got the podium back in the gym.”
Mom and Dad have made their way down the steps to us now, and they’re hugging Megan and Matt. “Oh, how fun to see the three of you together again,” Mom says, squeezing Megan’s elbow and putting on that smile that earned her the real estate license. “Isn’t that fun, Patrick?”
Dad nods, says nothing. Coach thinks he’s a man of few words, but I’d like to see him spend a day at the stables with Dad. Mom turns to me and assumes an expression filled with so much empathy I think her soul must hurt to make it: “Was that hard for you, to watch the dance team perform?”
“It was hard for me,” Dad interrupts quietly. “I thought Rachel Hanson’s eyeballs were going to pop out of her head. What do they call that stuff she does with her face?”
“Facials?” Megan says.
“I think they call that particular facial ‘sharting while doing a grand jeté,’” I say.
“Natalie,” Mom says.
“When a horse makes that face, you know she’s in fight-or-flight,” Dad muses.
“When Rachel dances, everyone’s in fight-or-flight,” Megan agrees thoughtfully.
Mom buries her face in her hands. “She comes from a broken home.”
“Yeah, so did War Horse and Seabiscuit, Mom. That’s no excuse.”
The school’s pitch-dark and cool, though still heavy with humidity. I look over the balcony down to the cafeteria and the wall of windows overlooking the lawn, and then, remembering this afternoon, I do a quick once-over of the shadowy foyer before taking off through the too-dark halls.
The farther I get from the doors, the more terrified I am to be alone in the dark. Grandmother’s voice echoes in my head with every step. You need to be prepared for what’s coming.
I spin through my locker combination, dig through the obsessively ordered rows of binders and memorabilia still left in there, stuff the phone charger into my purse, and turn to leave before the inevitable axe murderer arrives.
Something stops me.
Beautiful music, spilling down the dark hall from the band room.
I’ve been hearing the myth about the Band Room Phantom for the past four years, but whenever I’d thought about what I would do if confronted by its siren song, I certainly hadn’t pictured myself venturing toward it.
But there’s no ghost, I remind myself. There’s just a sneaky senior, whom I must know, and a hauntingly beautiful song trailing un-self-consciously across the keys of a piano.
I creep down the hall and stand outside the wooden doors, just listening for a while. The song is sad, heartbreaking even, and I’m overcome with frustration that I don’t have a better word to describe it. It occurs to me then that Grandmother would. She’d have a whole story that would sound exactly like this song. I open the door as quietly as I can and slip inside.
The black grand piano sits in the far corner, heavily scuffed but still elegant. The person playing it hasn’t turned on a single light, which makes him hard to see. But if the broad shoulders and long, slightly dirty hair didn’t give him away, the paper bag sitting on top of the piano definitely would have.
Who the hell is this guy? Maybe he really is a being like Grandmother. Either way, I don’t want to interrupt the song. I stay close to the door with my head tipped back against its dewy surface as I listen and watch. His too-big hands travel gracefully over the keys, his too-big shoulders tensing under his worn-out T-shirt, and the image—a grizzly-bear-sized boy hunched over a piano, who shouldn’t be able to make the keys sing like that, so tenderly, so gratefully—would be funny if the song weren’t so arresting.
I close my eyes and think about all of Grandmother’s stories, finding the one that feels the most like this song.
“This story is true, girl,” Grandmother said. “So listen well.”
“You say that about all of them,” I argued. I was nine, and, so far, none of the stories had seemed true.
“They have all been true,” Grandmother said. “But you’ll think this one is truer than the rest.”
“So you mean it actually happened.”
“No story is truer than any other story that has the truth in its heart.”
“What are you even talking about?” I asked.
“Stories are born from our consciousness,” she said, lacing her fingers in her lap. “They come from the things we already know. They come from the things we learn from our ancestors and our kin. We all learn different things, depending on where we’re born, so the stories you hear will be different. So too the things your kin decide to do will be different. So too the things you decide to do will be different. The way to make the best decisions is to listen to all the stories and to know them by heart and to feel them in your bones. You need to know, Natalie, that no story is truer than truth itself. All good stories and all our lives are born from that knowledge.”
“So, what’s the truth?”
“It’s hard to say. That’s why it’s so important to listen and to look both backward and forward at the threads that Grandmother Spider spins between things. You understand?”
“I never understand a word you say,” I told her.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is a gift you give yourself. It is love, it is truth wrapped in a fascinating story....and because tune is fluid you will meet your past, present and future you in very first read! I can’t wait to go back,read it again and see what else I find
"The Love That Split the World" is a great book, so let me tell you about it. Natalie is a normal teenage girl, except for the fact that she has visions and night terrors. Beau is a normal teenage boy, well except for the fact that he sees things too. Natalie sees visions of a figure who calls herself Grandmother, and that’s how it all started. It was Nat’s last day of high school, and Grandmother came to her at night. She talked to her and told her a story, like she always does. “You have 3 months to save him Natalie.” “ Save? Save who?” and just like that, Grandmother was gone. It was senior night at the high school, and everyone was there to watch the teams get announced. Natalie needed to get her purse from the school, but when she stood up, the football field was empty. Well, not completely empty. There he was, one guy practicing football on his own. Then, he was gone. Natalie is walking down the hall when she hears music coming from the piano room. She sneaks in and watches him, the same guy from the field. Then he sees her and it’s kind of awkward. Then, they hear her friends talking about catching the band room ghost. He pushes her behind the curtain right before her friends see them. They introduce themselves, his name is Beau. Beau and Natalie start to see each other more and more, but her ex-boyfriend Matt still has feelings. Beau and Nat develop a very loving relationship, but then things start to change. They realize they live in two different towns, but the same town, Union Kentucky. In Beau’s version, there is no Natalie, and in her version, there is no Beau. They can manage to jump back and forth between the two worlds, and go forward or backward in time. Slowly, it becomes harder and harder for them to get to each other. They need to figure out why it’s only them who can go between worlds, and why they aren’t in each other’s worlds. Natalie finds out a terrorizing dream is actually a memory, and it could be a clue. She soon realizes that she needs to learn more about everything, and she still needs to find out who needs saving. Will Natalie and Beau figure out a way to be together after their closings? Will Natalie find and save whoever needs saving? Well, I guess you will just have to read the book to find out. I would recommend this book for most people around the ages of 12-15 years old because it has a lot of everything, but just so you know it does have some bad language. At times it can be suspenseful, like when Natalie keeps having a recurring night terror. It can also seem like it’s a love story between two teenagers, like when Beau and Natalie are alone watching the stars. One thing I can definitely say is that it always keeps you interested. Personally I don’t like romance books, but this isn’t like that at all. It has some romantic parts, but it always keeps you guessing. Its like, are they going to be together, are they not? Are they going to be able to stay together? How are they going to tie a link between their worlds? Who needs to be saved? Are they going to save them before time runs out?There is never a dull moment, you will never want to stop reading. I couldn’t stop, I read about 100 pages in one sitting. The end will have you on the edge of your seat up until the last page. It’ll have you saying “WOW, this was a great book!” All in all, I think anybody from ages 12-15 years old would enjoy this book.
You know how there’s always that one book that everyone loves but you just don’t get the appeal? Yeah well, that pretty much sums up how I feel about The Love That Split The World. In fact, I disliked it so much that I had to make a list of all the things I didn’t like. 1.This book unbelievably overly complicated. Time travel is a very metaphysical concept in itself so to add elements such as racial identity, leaving for college, PTSD, psychology, romance, adoption etc.. it just made this book overwhelming and at times preachy. There is also a ton of instances where we are given all of this information at once about time travel theories, information about science and psychology and it felt like I was reading a textbook. 2. Our main character Natalie. She is half Native American but was adopted so she’s on this journey to find out more about her heritage and past in order to unlock the reasons why she can seemingly jump into a parallel universe. Which in the beginning was very interesting. But after a while of her whining about Matt, planning her future with Beau, and then describing everything that she owns she began to irritate me. I also don’t understand why everyone thinks that she’s such a feminist, when she’s talking (at 18) about having this perfect married life with Beau and going home to make him his food and be the perfect wife. 3. The portrayal of Native American culture. To me, a culture encompasses more than a few legends and that was all that we got! At first I liked the Native American legends and folktales as well as the visits with her “grandmother” but then after awhile it completely bogged down the story and the author just seemed to be trying too hard to be as politically correct as possible. Having Natalie discover more her past and and her culture is another example of how this book was overly complicated. I feel like this story line could’ve been made into it’s own book because while it was the focal point of Natalie’s character development I don’t feel that I as a reader I learn enough about her past or heritage. 4. I didn’t like how there was absolutely no fluidity to the story. When a new story line would come in it felt very abrupt and almost out of place. In one moment we would be at a backyard party then in the next ten pages she would be having a memory flashback to some childhood memory which really had no bearing on the story or plot. Seriously, like every little thing that she owned had some sort of memory connected to it whether it was paint color, furniture, or clothes. These excessive descriptions became very tiresome after a while. Enough with the descriptions!!!!!!!! 5. Matt. Then we had the dumb story line with Matt, her ex-boyfriend, who seemed to just be in the story so that Natalie can whine about him every five minutes and so the author could throw in a few quotes about “first love”. 6. Beau. Don’t even get me started on how useless he was. He lacked depth and the only thing remotely interesting about him was that he played the piano. 7.The insta-love. Their relationship seemed to be based solely of “he’s hot and can time travel so let me just waste my summer planning a future together”. 8. The ending was so confusing! I can’t elaborate as to why it was unsatisfying without spoiling it. I had hoped t
This book started kind of slow for me, but I was head-over-heels in love with it by the end. The Native American stories were deftly woven into the text, in much the same way that Natalie's feelings of isolation and exclusion as a result of her Native American heritage are woven into her character arc. I can't speak to the authenticity of author Emily Henry's portrayal of Native American characters with any kind of firsthand experience, but it's incredibly obvious that she did her research and did it well. As far as love stories go, THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD contains one of my absolute favorites so far this year. Natalie and Beau's relationship is tender and poignant, slow enough to be believable and passionate enough to keep the pages turning. I read the last quarter or so of the book with my heart in my throat, desperately hoping for a happy ending. Throw in an excellent cast of secondary characters, including Natalie's close, nuclear family and amazing best friend, gorgeous descriptions of summer in Kentucky, and prose that might very well make you cry, and you've got a story that will stay with you a long, long time. Highly recommended.
A book that is beautifully written and has an interesting idea but feels too ambitious which leaves too many of the plot threads feeling half-finished. It has a cute couple in it that actually feels realistic, which I appreciated, but certain aspects get clichéd still.
3.5 stars I’m on the fence with this book from it being okay to liking it. The book falls somewhere in the middle of the two. I found it wasn't as easy to follow as I would like. There was some sentences that didn’t make sense to me, it just didn’t flow nicely as it could. Also my brain hurts. That is all. Haha, no it only started to hurt near the end when the explanations started. Too scientific and confusing for me at that point. This would be the point of it being a movie for me to understand it completely and to see it instead of reading it. Besides all that, I like the idea of the story. I like the concept of being in one place but yet at a different one at the same time. Natalie I had mixed feelings on. I loved her humor and her relationships with her friends but I can’t really pinpoint what I don’t like about her. I guess it’s maybe because how she handled her situations with her ex, Matt. Or it could have been the unnecessary sassiness. Who knows. At first I didn’t like the relationship with Beau but then slowly I was looking forward to it. I was craving more of them. I wanted more especially at the end. I liked and didn’t like the way it ended. I thought it was lovely but then again I wished it wasn’t written like something her “Grandmother” would recite to her.
Well, if you can’t tell from my Goodreads Progress Updates – this book wasn’t my favorite (maybe that’s an understatement?). There was just too much happening. Henry crammed way too much into this book. There are elements of time-travel, alternate dimensions, adoption, Native American culture, identity, romance, science and even questioning the existence of God. It’s just too much. The story focuses on Natalie Cleary – who has to be one of my least favorite female protagonists. I found her to be insufferably immature and selfish. Most of the decisions she makes are purely based on what she wants with no consideration of how they may impact the people around her. The writing wasn’t terrible and is probably the only redeeming factor for me. Outside of the science mumbo jumbo and the Native American stories – Henry writes really well. Overall, though, I wasn’t fond of this book.
Such a unique and beautifully written story full of incredible detail, heart, and wit. The attention given to each part of this story is amazing. And the stories within the story will keep you on the edge wondering what will happen next. I found myself re-reading passages in awe at times. Well crafted and unforgettable! Loved it!!!
Her writing and the way she words things is so poetic. They are the type of quotes you stick on your pastel walls, on your binder, and maybe even get a tattoo of. Her writing really flowed and it read like a movie; like I see this being turned into a movie. I really liked Natalie as a character. She spoke her mind on some social issues, especially feminism, and I admire that a lot. Knowing the author, I can really see Emily Henry’s ideas incorporated into her. Natalie also has this faint glow of braveness that many female heroines do not carry. Sure, other heroines can kill their enemies in 2.5 seconds, but Natalie shows her braveness and selflessness on how she handles this situation. However, I will admit that she did snap a few times and I felt that it was unnecessary. In other words, she is an admirable character, but she is not my favorite. Finally we have the time travel concept. Yet again, time travel gave me chills, kept me reading, and made me a teensy bit freaked out. There are a lot of phycological information pushed into this, even a bit too much. On some parts, I understood the idea but not completely. However, the concept is clearer as Natalie experiences it. In this case, the actions meant more than the words. There were some personal issues I had with TLTSTW, but it might’ve just been me. Almost the whole month of December I was in a terrible reading slump. Because of this, I might’ve not enjoyed this as much as other people. I don’t think my personal problem should affect your opinion on this book as a whole. It did take me a while to get into this, about 100 pages. With that being said, everyone needs to read this so we can talk about the ending!! I’ve already talked with Stefani @ Caught Read Handed and Xan @ Twirling Pages and we have some different theories on what happened.
Emily Henry has created something truly special with THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD. Part love story, part time travel epic, with alternate realities and elements of folklore, all woven together into a beautiful tapestry about identity, love, and hope. Expertly-paced and elegantly structured, Henry’s talent shines off of every page – the writing was so real, yet magical and gorgeous, all at the same time – every sentence felt just right. A must-read debut!
I L O V E T H I S B O O K S O M U C H Emily Henry’s debut novel is one of kind. Billed as a cross between Friday Night Lights and The Time Traveler’s Wife, it’s a lot to live up to. But it does. It 100 percent does. I feel like I just had a long day after finishing this book, not the long day that makes your feet hurt from walking around the office, or the long day that makes you skip dinner and head right to bed. The kind of long day that you have after spending the day on the beach, with the most perfect weather and not to many people, the kind of day that you want to relive over and over again, just so you can catch every single detail more beautifully than the last. That’s what this book felt like. One thing we need to talk about is the writing style, I know every author has a different style of writing and we should nit pick, but this writing was outstanding! I never felt lost, or confused, I love the back stories and how short the chapters are making it such a quick read you don’t want to put it down once. The author chooses her words carefully, painting a gorgeous and vivid picture of both the Kentucky setting and this delicate time in Natalie Cleary’s life. The idea of this story, the plot, the characters, all of it is just so different than the normal YA books. I will say one thing that I really do love the characters, I never hated any of them, never thought any of them were lacking, even supporting characters were so well written and just everything was set out perfectly. I never read anything with this kind of time travel plot, it’s different and a pleasant vacation from other YA books. THE DIALOGUE! Oh my goodness, this was the best part of the whole story. Nothing ever sounded cheesy, or even forced. My personal favorite was all the lines that she gave to Megan, they were so witty and I was laughing almost every time she said anything to Natalie. Even the dialogue between Beau and Natalie could have easily crossed over to the typical “I love you in five seconds” phase, but it never did. You can see their relationship grow more and more with every page, it was always believable. This isn’t just a love story between a boy and a girl, it has love between friends, love between family, and the most important, loving yourself. Honestly this book is going to stay with me for a long time, I’m pretty sure I’m going to reread this again in the coming years. I also need to give a shout out to Anthony Elder who designed the cover, because OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS STUNNING. I know your not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but you have to admit, this cover is just beautiful! It was the number of thing that made me start reading it a month earlier than I was supposed to. I really, desperately wanted to share afternoons watching the rain with Natalie and her best friend, Megan. These characters are just so real, feel too alive to call “characters.” Watching each and everyone of these people love Natalie, and watching Natalie love them back, actually changed me and made me want to try harder to love the people I love well. Get some tissues and pick up this book. THE LOVE THAT SPLIT THE WORLD totally, absolutely lives up to its hype.
I've been excited for this book for ages. Time travel? Romance? Then it got that cover. THAT COVER. But I worried. This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year - what if it didn't live up to the hype? Oh, but it did. This book consumed me in a way so few have. It was an all time favorite before I even finished - and some of that may have had to do with when I read it. I have to start with the writing. The writing was mind blowingly gorgeous. There were so many passages that were beautiful and heartbreaking. I was so enamored that I read most of it on the train and kept getting aggravated by texts interrupting me, even though they were kind of important. And despite being exhausted by a full day at ALA and six hours of traveling, I stayed up until I finished it. Because there was no question of me waiting to finish. Helping to tell the story, origin stories were woven in - largely inspired by Native American origin stories. They added to the beauty of the book as a whole. Some were simple, short stories, while others were incredibly complex and in depth and they all were so interesting. It really added this later to Natalie - who is Native American - and the story. I loved the story of Nat and Beau. They had such a fascinating origin story of their own. There was some insta-love type action which is usually kinda off putting, but it didn't feel forced or fake. I didn't even think about it until mid-way through reading and then I didn't really care. But they were also interesting characters on their own. Nat was adopted by a white family as an infant and she's trying to figure out who she is, what she wants, and if she's going crazy. Beau is a boy with a rough family life and conflicting loyalties. I loved getting to know them and watching them grow. A lot of my favorite bits I can't discuss without spoilers, but the ending and the logic were so interesting and unique. Things unfolded masterfully and in a way I never could've imagined. I'm gonna leave it there though. Ultimately, this novel is an origin story for Nat, mixed with origin stories of the world. It was beautiful, romantic, and such a wonderful story of family. And I got to read it as I left behind friends, many who I hadn't seen in months and a few I hadn't seen in years and some I met for the first time and was feeling light and happy. Sitting down and reading this in the frenzy that I did brought me back down and made me think, but also let me keep the wonderful high I was riding. I absolutely loved every second of the reading experience and while this book won't work for everyone, it's definitely one I recommend checking out. Emily Henry has pretty much guaranteed herself I'll be buying all of her future books already.
THE LOVE THAT SPLITS THE WORLD grabs at your heart and doesn’t let go. Lyrical, magical, haunting, and funny with a love rich and true at its core. Henry’s writing is lush, wrapping around you like a warm blanket. Her swoon is the swooniest. It’s a stunning and heartfelt debut that sticks with you long after turning the final page.
Well written and a breath of fresh air in the often stale NA genre. Henry weaves an interesting love story spanning space and time. Mysterious and sometimes confusing, it grabs hold of the reader and doesn't let go. I woke up at 2 am and was compelled to finish reading. The end was initially disappointing but upon digesting the story for a day, it was actually quite genius. Great book- highly recommend!
My thoughts are all over the place for this one. I'm not sure at all where to start with this one. For the most part, I'm so glad I read this book. On another hand I feel like maybe it wasn't the right time for me to read this one. Looking over other bloggers ratings, it looks like everyone either extremely loved it or the exact opposite. I somehow was able to fall smack in the middle. Natalie Cleary has way too much going on for an eighteen year old girl. She's seeing things and people and places are changing right in front of her eyes. But then she meets one boy who seems to help her understand all that's happening. Until something jumps in their way to complicate things even further. Unfortunately for the most part I found myself bored or confused with this story. Which really upsets me because I really did want to like it. I'm going to blame it on the fact that I read 3 time travel books in a row and this is why I didn't like it as much. I'm gonna go ahead and blame it on the fact that I was just burnt out. I probably should've waited to read this one after I read something else. The prose in this one was beautiful though. The descriptions of the world and the folk tales told in this one were so good. There were times I would write down entire passages to keep them and reread them later. Henry's words are amazing and I can't wait to see what else she has in store. Although her writing was so beautiful, there were somethings that confused me. This book is very strange and there is ALOT going on without enough explanation. That is until the very end. Which is unfortunate to the reader. There's this huge info dump at the end in place of the conclusion. I know that's how most time travel books work, but this usually happens toward the beginning of the book. With this one, it seemed to be a lot all at once. Maybe too much. What I was surprised by in this one was the diversity. I was not expecting the MC to be a POC and to be adopted as well. The best part was finding out more about Natalie's culture through the folk tales. I learned so many different stories and compared them to other stories I've already read. This has convinced me to want to keep learning and looking up more of those tales.
Ahhhh. That ending. Perfect, yet... Arhhhh. Read it. It is so worth reading. Clever, frustrating, sad and charming, The Love That Split the World is an epic story. From the first page this book is a story that is shrouded in mystery. I wanted to keep reading to find out what was going on and where the story might be headed. I was a little (and sometimes a lot) confused, intrigued and even a little skeptical. I had read a number of reviews which spouted the fabulousness of this book and I wasn't sure if it would live up to expectations. In some ways (read: the ending) it totally exceeded all expectations, in fact I was surprised by the clever way this story is woven together. It really is brilliant. However, I didn't love the majority of this book. I enjoyed it and was certainly engaged, but it wasn't an uplifting book for me. This book has an overall melancholic feeling. Perhaps it's the looming sense of doom or maybe Natalie's sense of the end of her life as she knows it (with her friends, the end of high school, the end of her living in Union, or even the end of her world). The epic-ness of the end of the book does make up for this though, and the deep reflectiveness suited the story. Natalie has a dry wit that makes her an irresistible narrator and protagonist. Beau is pretty good at keeping up with her quips, but his presence brings a harsher, reflective side to the story. This is not a cutesy romance. In fact, there is nothing cutesy about this book at all. Beau and Natalie have some pretty intense chemistry, but their relationship never feels rushed. In fact, they kind of oscillate between deeply attracted and desperately trying to push each other away/pull each other closer. There is a love triangle of sorts in that Natalie's ex-boyfriend plays a large role in the story. At first I wasn't quite sure which boy she was meant to end up with and which, or if, one of them was the unknown 'him' she is meant to save. I had my favourite and was pleased when it became clear which boy has her heart. While this is a love story (a pretty epic, world-splitting love at that) it is also a story about family, finding one's self in the world, belonging, friendship and the endless possibilities that spark from every little action or decision one makes. While the pace of the first half of this book seemed pretty slow, there was never any lack of things happening, and by the time I hit the last hundred pages I was unable to put the book down and I just kept getting blown away by the way the story interconnects and loops back on itself (and I was very quickly running out of pages!). This really was a very clever story and completely engaging for that fact alone, let alone the added bonus of a rather epic love story, strong heroine and great underpinning messages of belonging, self-belief and finding your (right) place in the world. The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Natalie Cleary is a normal high school girl – except for the fact that she can see ghosts, or possibly people from other dimensions. When Grandmother – the name she gives to the cryptic old woman who has been visiting her in the night since childhood – issues a warning that Natalie only has three months to save someone close to her, she knows she has to figure out what her connection is to that other world. Then one of the beings who flickers at the edge of her consciousness reveals himself to be all too real – a handsome, brooding boy named Beau – and burgeoning romance complicates her quest. Henry’s writing is lucid and lyrical, exploring Natalie’s fractured sense of self, both as a child of Native American descent adopted by white parents, and as a traveler between worlds. The story’s twisty plotline remains firmly grounded in Natalie’s emotions, in her quest to find the place where and when she belongs, and in her determination to save the people she loves.
I think that my expectations for this book were set way too high. I was really needing to read one of those books that grab a hold of you and refuses to let go. On Goodreads, the reviews are amazing so I decided that this would be the next book that I fell in love with and it almost worked. I liked it but I didn't fall in love with it. I am giving this book a very generous 4 stars but it comes very close to being a 3 star read for me. The overall premise of the story was very interesting. Natalie starts seeing things wrong. Things in her town seem to appear and disappear but she is the only one who seems to notice. She has been visited by Grandmother for much of her life and has been in a lot of therapy as a result. Grandmother spends her visits telling stories which I found to be very engaging. Natalie meets a young man named Beau just as things start happening rapidly. When Natalie learns that she has three months to save him, she must figure out what is going on and who she needs to save. This book did have a lot of things going for it. It was truly a unique story that kept me guessing. This book actually kept me up past my bedtime more than once just because I felt like I needed to figure out what was going on. The pacing of the story was nearly perfect with information being share piece by piece in a manner that really kept my interest. I did enjoy the overall writing style. There were also a few things that I didn't care for as much in this story. I was able to figure out the two main mysteries in the book very early on. I was actually very disappointed when my predictions were correct. I did get a little tired of the focus on the romance in this story. There were so many other things going on that were more interesting that I really wanted to stay focused on. I honestly did not care for how this book ended...at all. When I turned the last page and realized that the book was actually ending as it did, I wanted to throw it across the room. I would recommend this book to fans of Young Adult novels. I do think that this book will prove to be very popular largely due to its uniqueness. This is the first novel by Emily Henry and I look forward to reading her future works. I received an advance reader edition of this book from Penguin Group - Razorbill via First to Read for the purpose of providing an honest review.
When a book is pitched as "Time Traveler's Wife" meets "Friday Night Lights", you enter with some pretty high expectations. (And also sort of perplexed, at least I was, because I had not thought of those two things meeting.) However, it totally makes sense once you read the book! Promise!! In beautiful, accomplished prose, debut author Henry tells the story of Natalie, mere months away from leaving her small town in Kentucky behind for Brown. But this is no ordinary tale of the last summer before heading off to college. Natalie's got much bigger things to deal with -- like the fact that she might be slipping through the cracks of time. And then there's Beau (side note: okay, I totally kept seeing as Tim Riggins from FNL because of those comp titles -- not exactly a *problem*), who she meets playing the piano after-hours in school. How has she never seen him before? What's his story, really? (Okay, I can't go into it b/c spoilers, but trust me, you want to know.) Part love story, part self-discovery, this is a story about finding your place in the world . . . even when the world doesn't work the way you thought it did. I was so impressed by the skill with which Henry unspooled this story -- no easy feat, trust me, her beautiful use of language, and this evocative setting. I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.
UGH. THIS BOOK. THIS FREAKING BOOK. I loved it so much that I cant even properly explain WHY I loved it. This debut had been on my radar for quite sometime thanks to the Sweet Sixteens so I was ecstatic when I got a copy of it in the mail. It was pitched as “Friday Night Lights meets Time Travelers Wife” which sounds GREAT, right? WELL THIS BOOK WAS EVEN BETTER THAN IT SOUNDS. As I started reading this book, I knew immediately that it would be one that stayed with me for a long time. Early on we are introduced to Natalie and Grandmother; an elderly Native American woman who visits Natalie during the night and comforts her with stories from her culture.. This really struck home with me because my great grandmother was part Cherokee Indian and Native American culture is not something that you often see in YA books. The way that Emily wrote the folklore into the story was so beautiful. You were all at once reading a YA book and a tale that could have been passed down through many generations. The way that she tied these stories into the plot was absolute PERFECTION. I am also extremely happy to see a heroine who struggles with being adopted. I think the way Natalie feels through out the story is very realistic. It all felt so real and close to the surface for me. NOW CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE ROMANCE? WOW. I literally can’t even wrap my head around how much I loved Beau. He is everything I’ve ever needed. A total Tim Riggins for those of you who have watched Friday Night Lights. The build up between Beau and Natalie is such a slow burn. It was almost torturous for me because I NEEDED them to be together so badly. Even when they weren’t together, I was constantly waiting for when they WOULD be together again… AND IVE NEVER BEEN SO EMOTIONAL OVER BUILDING PORCHES. ALSO THE ENDING OMG. Ive seen a few different opinions on what exactly happened in the end and I love that its pretty much open to interpretation. Everyone is so passionate about their view on how things ended.. BUT I’m going to go with the power of positive thinking and PRAY my theory is the right/happy theory. I also do want to mention a specific part of the book that I really enjoyed. It was a conversation between Natalie and her father about Nat being more sensitive to the world around her which makes her dark times seem darker, but not to get discouraged because it would also make her bright days even brighter. Just hold on until those days come because they WILL and everything will feel just like it should. It reminded me of close friends who have suffered depression and the passage in the book served as a gentle reminder that things may seem dark, but they won’t always be.