Emily Henry makes her YA debut with the cosmically charged romance The Love That Split the World, about two teens who live in separate realities, two different versions of their small Kentucky hometown. Through a tiny opening between their worlds, Natalie and Beau fall in love. But what future can exist for such a delicate love?
Henry shares her own magical worldview, hallucinations, nostalgia and "love for the gray" that inspired her novel.
I always joke that I’m a Believer™ to rival Fox Mulder. That is to say, I’m a person who believes. I’ll read articles about how octopi might be aliens or our universe could be some other being’s hologram, or all humans might be linked in a collective unconscious, and I’ll think, “I can see how that could be true.”
I believe in a vast and mysterious world, where the seemingly impossible sometimes becomes true, and science and magic are often differentiated by the amount of information we have access to. I’ve always found myself drawn to stories that pull back the curtain, that pick at the fabric of reality. I’m fascinated by the way that thinking in—writing in—those gray spaces can change the way we see our world.
So many different things collided to push The Love That Split the World out of me, but I think the first and foremost was this, my worldview: a belief in a strange, sprawling world full of surprising connections and events so strange that, to our ignorant eyes, they look like magic. My love for the gray.
"I wanted to look at one of the most confusing times in life and to pull out the meaning, to make sense of the nonsensical and to unravel the established."
It was summer when the idea for Love first struck me, though it was less like lightning and more like a rapid blooming in my chest. I’m always incredibly nostalgic in summer, and that particular summer my boyfriend at the time (now husband) and I were caught in weird in-between phases of life, the kind where you really miss stuff from the past but also feel so eager to move forward. We went out for a walk one night, and it was humid and buggy and golden, and I felt an overwhelming swell of both nostalgia and deja vu for the summer I graduated high school. I realized that in that moment, I felt the same way I had then: desperate to hold onto what I was leaving yet eager to move forward; I felt like I needed to get back to the magic of childhood or to move forward toward self actualization, like I wanted to be anywhere but the present. I was facing down Time with a capital T and its strange and (still weirdly) unpredictable nature.
With those feelings came a strong desire to write. I’d never felt so excited or nervous to start something as I felt with The Love That Split the World. I wanted to capture all of the feelings of that summer in particular, but also of all the summers I spent in Kentucky as a kid, a sensitive kid caught in a world of constant tension.
Like Natalie, I suffer from hypnopompic hallucinations—a kind of waking dream your body wakes up before your brain and dream is briefly transposed over reality. For me, these hallucinations often surface during times of intense stress, and looking back, I had more of them in my senior year of high school than throughout the rest of my life combined. I wanted to explore a reasoning behind why, to play with the idea of the hallucinations as windows to other people, places and times that crop up when we’re pulled in a lot of different directions. Basically I wanted to create a magical exaggeration of what those in-between times in life feel like.
And in the same way that the hallucinations are a physical manifestation of looking forward, Nat’s hometown embodies the feeling of looking back, of the moments when time slows. It’s a place thick with humidity, fireflies, memories and ache. There are so many magical, wonderful things about being a kid in that small town, but small towns can also be uniquely frustrating. I wanted to write a book that captured the nostalgia, claustrophobia and magic of a place that seems to exist outside of time, where not all that much changes, and a person like Nat might start to feel at once stuck and terrified to leave.
It’s hard to explain but to me, these concepts always felt linked. Nostalgia and time, tension and stress. These things go hand in hand, and I wanted to write a book that explored their psychological, metaphysical and spiritual connections. I wanted to look at one of the most confusing times in life and to pull out the meaning, to make sense of the nonsensical and to unravel the established. I wanted to make that gray a little warmer, a little more inviting, softer and sweeter and gentler. I wanted to write the gray into a comfort, a hug, a deeply abiding love.