When a group of grieving friends stumble headlong into an interstellar mystery, some very strange things begin to happen.
If you like Stranger Things and A Wrinkle in Time, and some profoundly funny but also profoundly moving friendships, When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry is the book for you (it was definitely the book for me.)
Splendor is the name of the town where Franny and her friends have lived and lost. A few years ago, there was a terrible tragedy at a steel mill nearby, and they all lost family. Bound by grief, they formed a ragtag team of friends, constantly seeking out adventure… which is how they end up stumbling upon the strangest event to ever happen in Splendor.
Reeling from what they have experienced, Franny and her friends try to pretend nothing has happened, but the event has left an otherworldly effect on their bodies and on their minds, and as things spiral out of control, they have to discover how to harness their newfound powers and figure out the truth of what happened in Splendor.
This book is full of mysteries that become unraveled with every page, and it’s both fast-paced and intriguing, while never losing sight of its emotional core. Franny, Sofia, Nick, Arthur, Remy and Levi are the perfect friend group: they’re unstoppable as a team and their conversations are full of inside jokes and pop culture references, but they also have strong relationships with each other individually.
Through Franny’s point of view, we get to know the group, and become invested in the lives of every single one of its members. Henry does a great job of making you laugh even in the toughest situations, building upon the group’s inside jokes until you feel a part of them. It’s both hilarious and heartwarming.
When the Sky Fell on Splendor does a great job with its supernatural/alien phenomena. Nothing that happens fits into any previously established mythology, which makes each twist unexpected. The FBI does make an appearance in a very E.T.-like manner, but that, along with quite a bit of cycling on Franny’s part, contributes to a kind of ‘80s movie feel that is always a great backdrop for believable science fiction.
Come to the book for the sci-fi, and stay for the characters. I normally don’t like first person as a point of view very much, but in this case it works pretty well. Franny might be among the most reserved members of the friend group, but she’s still witty and downright funny, while battling demons of her own. As the story progresses, we get to know her past, and see her learn to overcome trauma by opening herself up to her friends.
This book doesn’t shy away from talking about the effects a tragic event can have on a population, both collectively and as individuals. Everyone in Splendor has been affected by the steel mill accident, in one way or another, and nothing in the book could have happened if the accident hadn’t taken place. But of course, everyone reacts in very different ways, which in itself is very interesting to see. What happens when grieving people become friends, but don’t talk about the event that brought them together?
While When the Sky Fell on Splendor avoids overdoing drama, and never unnecessarily draws out crisis between people — avoiding the common pitfall of making a book stressful and depressing, which I was initially worried about before reading the book — it’s still a story about human relationships. And so a great part of the book is dedicated to unpacking the friendships in the group, with both their flaws and their strengths.
There were some parts of the book where the plot felt a little bit too contrived, or the dialogue a little bit too genius for it to have existed as a spur-of-the-moment comment, but as a whole it all works very well. The ending might leave some readers frustrated if they’re expecting to get what this genre usually offers as a conclusion, but I found it genuinely moving — even inspiring.
At its heart, this story is about learning to accept love and to find hope despite the terrible things we might experience. Henry has found a way to weave science about the universe and theories about the human spirit together in a way that feels absolutely real… and by the time you put down the book, you’ll find happiness and hope, too.
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