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Published: 16 May 2017
Category: Young Adult/Fantasy/Contemporary
Romeo and Juliet meets One Hundred Years of Solitude in Emily Henry’s brilliant follow-up to The Love That Split the World, about the daughter and son of two long-feuding families who fall in love while trying to uncover the truth about the strange magic and harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations.
In their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, the O’Donnells and the Angerts have mythic legacies. But for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them, except to say it began with a cherry tree.
Eighteen-year-old Jack “June” O’Donnell doesn’t need a better reason than that. She’s an O’Donnell to her core, just like her late father was, and O’Donnells stay away from Angerts. Period.
But when Saul Angert, the son of June’s father’s mortal enemy, returns to town after three mysterious years away, June can’t seem to avoid him. Soon the unthinkable happens: She finds she doesn’t exactly hate the gruff, sarcastic boy she was born to loathe.
Saul’s arrival sparks a chain reaction, and as the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers conspire to reveal the truth about the dark moment that started the feud, June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored. And she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all of the O’Donnells before her—to let go.
Rating: 2.5 Stars
I really wanted to like this book. Romeo & Juliet is, sure, a book about idiot children and has a terrible ending, but re-tellings have the potential to make things better and iron out the actions of kids who knew each other for a matter of days before committing suicide because of “love”.
I started reading the book somewhat because I thought that aspect would be interesting but also because I remember thinking The Love That Split the World, Emily Henry’s previous book, was an interesting contribution to the magical realism genre. This, another foray into the same, could have been very good but it felt very disappointing and made me sad that I had wasted time on a story that had so much potential that went unfulfilled.
June was a confusing character in regards to her relations with Saul. Obviously there was supposed to be the family animosity, but if we’re going with the R&J set-up, then of course she’s going to fall in love with him. Even taking that inevitability into account, I couldn’t figure out why June thought Saul was cute or attractive or anything, really. In the beginning she had these strong emotional reactions to him, but there didn’t seem to be a reason. Not a physical “he’s super hot I feel attracted” or something similar; the initiation of their “relationship” felt very off and baseless.
The secondary characters, Hannah and Nate, were equal parts okay friends and annoying. Nate was barely there and we didn’t get a good feel for his friendship with Saul, though we do find out they are cousins, but that doesn’t mean much because cousins can be anything from super close to complete strangers. Hannah, on the other hand, was set up to be June’s number one best friend. If this were another kind of story, I think she would have been June’s love interest and I did get that vibe sometimes. However, her actions were conflicting at times and it was those times that annoyed me beyond reason.
Hannah has grown up with June and believes in ghosts. She believes in the stories of Five Fingers, their hometown, and all the magical things that go on there. However, toward the end of the book, she refuses to believe in June and Saul being forbidden from going to the Falls, a waterfall over a lake. June has told her how this has been a long standing rule, the rule in fact aside from never going near anyone from Saul’s family, but Hannah chooses this to be the one thing she doesn’t believe in. I couldn’t comprehend how she could flip flop between believing in the supernatural and then disregarding the importance of following long held rules.
There were also the multiple times throughout the novel when Hannah, colluding with Nate, tricked and forced June and Saul together. They would lie and send forwarded misleading text messages, that kind of thing. If Hannah were my friend pulling this, she’d be getting a stern talking to about how that kind of thing is NOT OKAY.
Saul, the other half of the main love story, felt like he could have been quite interesting, but he felt really flat. I never connected with him or his story, which might have had something to do with the story being told from June’s perspective. However, if this is being set up as a huge love story that is breaking the family tradition of hating each other’s families, then I would think that it’d be quite important to learn more about and be able to feel Saul. We learned facts about him, but that’s all they were: facts.
This actually brings up a point I had about many of the characters: we got facts about them. I never felt like there was that spark that makes them come alive and feel like real people. I found myself not really caring what happened to them more than once throughout the book and that’s a dangerous thing to happen when the book is mostly character driven. I think I would have preferred this book if it were about June finding out about Five Fingers and her family’s past and no romance whatsoever because it never felt like a good love story. The traveling into the past through memories was much more interesting that whatever forced relationship was being written between June and Saul.
There was one final thing that bothered me and felt really extraneous: the “conflict” between June and her creative writing teacher Ms. deGeest & then June, Saul, and Ms. deGeest (apparently a high school classmate of Saul’s). Before we even find out that Saul and Ms. deGeest know each other, there are the interactions at June’s creative writing classes. Whatever it is about June that is making her teacher bend over backwards and make all kinds of allowances based on minimal evidence, I wasn’t seeing it. It didn’t come through in the text, either through poor characterization or because we didn’t get to read any of June’s stories, only hear about tidbits. The whole future writing career that seemed to be offered as potential for June felt like it was shoehorned in for…what? Conflict? Word count? Whatever it was, it didn’t feel necessary and even when it continued to be a thing, it never really got resolved.
Then, after June and Saul begin researching the thin places (what is causing them to relive memories and journey to the past), they bump into Ms. deGeest at the library and it’s revealed she was a high school friend/3 time hookup of Saul’s. This felt like a soap opera plot device that never went anywhere and ultimately meant nothing. It falls under the same heading as the creative writing bit: conflict? Word count? I’m not really sure, but either way, unsatisfactory and taking up time that it didn’t really need to.
Ms. deGeest didn’t strike me as the best teacher, either, because one of the things she said when talking to Jack was:
Junior, your work is too good to grade generously. An inflated mark and words of praise are not what you need.
This quote bugged me because sounds like she is inflating the grades and being disingenuous with the other students. That’s pretty bad behavior for a teacher if you’re meant to be teaching them something.
To sum up: I really wanted to like this novel because Emily Henry has the ability to write beautifully, but her story in this book felt like it got waylaid too many times by trying to be too many things at once. Her ideas of magical realism are interesting and have the potential to be really good, really classic adventures into the genre, but the execution of the ideas needs a lot of work on cohesion and the shedding of extraneous details before they can really explode into the awesome form I think they can become.