Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on June 6th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
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I went into Words in Deep Blue not really knowing what to expect. I had read that it was a book about books and the people who love them, and that was more than enough to pique my curiosity. It was also my first time reading anything by Cath Crowley and I’m always game to try out a new author.
What I experienced, however, was so much more than just a book about books. Words in Deep Blue is a beautifully written and moving novel that deftly explores themes of love and friendship, as well as those of loss and the grieving process.
The story centers on life-long best friends Rachel Sweetie and Henry Jones. Over the years, Rachel grows to have more than just friendly feelings toward Henry and when she learns her family is moving away from the area, she decides to confess her feelings to Henry via a love note, which she leaves in Henry’s favorite book at his family’s bookshop. She sends Henry a message letting him know about the letter and hopes that he’ll read it and come visit her before she moves away. She waits as long as she can, but when Henry is a no-show, Rachel moves away and vows to cut all ties with him because she feels so hurt.
Rachel stays gone for three years and only returns after a family tragedy – her brother Cal drowns – leaves her so deep in the throes of grief that she needs to get away from everything that reminds her of Cal, the ocean that took his life, and the fact that her own life has pretty much fallen apart since he died. Consumed by grief, Rachel has failed Year 12 and now cannot see a clear future for herself. Before her brother’s death, she and Cal shared a fascination with the ocean and all ocean life, so much so that Rachel had planned to pursue a career in the field of Oceanography. But now she can’t even stomach the sight of the ocean, so she feels lost.
Henry, although going through nothing as tragic as the death of a sibling, is still having a pretty rough go of things himself. Henry is pining after Amy, a girl he was dating during the entire time Rachel was away, but who has since broken up with him. To make matters worse, Amy not only dumped Henry, but she also started dating a guy that Henry absolutely hates. So Henry spends most of his time embarrassing himself by trying to get Amy back or seething because he hates her new boyfriend so much. In addition to his girlfriend troubles, Henry is also dealing with the fact that his parents are splitting up and may also be selling their beloved second hand bookstore, Howling Books. Everything he has ever known and loved could be about to change.
When Rachel comes back to town and ends up working at Howling Books, where Henry also works, will it be impossibly awkward or will Rachel and Henry embrace this second chance to rekindle their friendship and help each other work through their troubles?
Relatable Themes. As I’ve already mentioned, Words in Deep Blue explores the themes of friendship, love, loss, and the grieving process. We’ve all experienced one or more of these in our lives and so I think this just makes Words in Deep Blue such an easy book to connect with. That and Crowley does a wonderful job of exploring each of these themes in such a realistic way that you can’t help but see yourself in her characters and what they’re going through.
Realistic, Flawed Characters. I loved both Henry and Rachel, not because they were the perfect characters, but for the exact opposite reason…because they both had their fair share of flaws and it made them so easy to relate to. In the case of Rachel, it was easy to understand why she wanted to escape from her life for a while to work through her grief, but at the same time, it really started to frustrate me that she wouldn’t open up to any of her friends from her old town to let them know what had happened to Cal. Everyone is constantly asking her how Cal’s doing and she just makes up lies, saying that he’s fine and living with his Dad. How can you work through your grief when you’re carrying around this burden and adding to it by telling lies?
In much the same way, it’s easy to understand why Henry is upset about losing Amy. They had been dating for years and had started to make serious plans for the future together, starting with a big trip around the world together. Amy really pulls the rug out from under Henry, and he’s left there holding a non-refundable, non-transferrable airline ticket. That said, however, it becomes increasingly frustrating the longer Henry pines over her because the more we see Amy in action, the more clear it becomes that she doesn’t love Henry, probably never did, and on top of that, is just a nasty person all the way around. The fact that Henry started to see what we were seeing about Amy and continued to think about getting her back made me want to scream. But at the same time, haven’t we all been there at some point? So yeah, totally relatable.
Dual Narration. I’m always a big fan of dual point of views and this book is no exception. What I always like about dual narratives and especially liked about reading the alternating chapters from Rachel and Henry’s point of view was that peek behind the curtain, so to speak. I get to see firsthand how they are actually feeling about something versus how they then choose to present themselves to others. I loved it for both characters but really liked the added depth that it added to Rachel’s story.
The Setting. I don’t know that I have ever loved the setting of a book more than Howling Books. Seriously. I want this shop to open up in my town. I’d be there everyday. I loved the atmosphere, with the coffee shop next door with the quaint little garden between the two shops, and with its monthly book club. It was perfect in every way. I loved the caring customer service that Henry and his family provided, especially with respect to the customer who is looking for a second hand copy of a book that he once owned and gave away and now desperately wants to get back because it belonged to his deceased wife. Henry and his family located copy after copy of this book in hopes of locating the special one for their customer. The amount of effort they put into trying to find that book was just so touching to see.
As if that wasn’t enough, the whole concept of the Letter Library moved me to tears. As Henry’s dad says, it’s the heart and soul of their bookshop. The Letter Library is a collection of books that cannot be purchased but that customers are allowed to peruse as they wish and even make notes in. It embraces the idea that each reader brings their own experiences to a book and gives them the opportunity to leave behind their unique experience for the next reader to find. The Letter Library also goes a step further in that some people actually leave letters, sometimes signed and sometimes anonymous, within the pages of the books. That whole idea was just so romantic and charming. Again, why is there not something like this in my town?
I hate to even put anything in this section since it is such a lovely read, but I do have to confess that as much as I adored the concept of the Letter Library, it was hard for me to imagine some of the characters in the book actually using it, especially since they’re all carrying around smart phones and texting each other. It was hard to reconcile the idea that the same kid who just sent someone a text would then sit down and handwrite a letter to that same exact person and put it in a book for them to read and reply to. It didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book at all, but it was a niggling thought in the back of my mind every time a letter was left or retrieved.
Words in Deep Blue is one of those books that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone. It’s filled with so many relatable themes and life lessons that I think any reader could easily connect to it. And of course, I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves books and the power of the written word because the world of Howling Books is one you’ll want to immerse yourself in.
RATING: 4 STARS
Love lives between the lines.
Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.
Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.
Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.
As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.