Published by Pan Australia on August 30th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Source: My copy
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This is a love story.
It's the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.
It's the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea. Now, she's back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that second-hand bookshops have a special mystery about them. There’s something about the smell and the feel of books that have been places and seen things. They store the collected memories of a community.
Australian author Cath Crowley returns with Words in Deep Blue, a story about one such bookshop in suburban Melbourne called Howling Books. It’s also about two recent school-leavers and erstwhile best friends Henry and Rachel.
Henry lives upstairs from Howling Books with his family. His parents are in the process of a divorce, and finances are tight. His girlfriend Amy has just broken up with him again. She’ll be back, though–she’s the love of his life.
Rachel moved away from the city and her best friend Henry three years ago. Her brother, Cal, recently drowned in the Southern Ocean and Rachel has cut herself off from her friends in her grief. But now it’s time to move back to the city, away from the ocean’s constant reminder of her loss.
Told in alternating points of view, Words in Deep Blue explores the journey of grief. Rachel has avoided telling anyone in the city about Cal’s death, instead making up a story about taking a year off after school before going to university. Henry is confused by the changes in her. He doesn’t understand how she could just stop talking and writing to him after they were inseparable for so long.
Even though events are repeated sometimes between Henry’s and Rachel’s chapters, they each have a distinct voice. The repetition shows how profoundly they know each other–they often have similar thoughts and reactions, making their lies and withdrawals all the more heart-wrenching, but their reconciliation all the sweeter.
Crowley writes about intelligent young adults discovering their place within the world. Her previous book, Graffiti Moon, was a love story based around the worlds of art and poetry. Words in Deep Blue is also a romance, but explores how the written word can connect people and allow them to make sense of a complex world. She writes with a lyrical, almost whimsical voice, with gorgeous descriptions to enhance the emotional parts of her writing, and witty dialogue to lighten the tone.
Howling Books is a special place to the community of Gracetown because of its Letter Library: a section of the shop dedicated to favourite books that customers can write in. They can circle or mark their favourite sections or words, leave messages in the margins, or tuck letters inside books for other readers to find.
The act of writing on the pages of a printed book is considered taboo by many people. From a young age, children are taught that the printed pages of books are sacred, and not to be marked, so the act of writing messages or marking favourite passages seems deliciously rebellious. The Letter Library allows people a safe environment to express their love of books and the words contained in them, and to engage with the bookshop community. If only every bookshop had a Letter Library!
Various characters in the story interact via notes passed in Letter Library books. While Henry’s parents bond over a copy of Great Expectations, his sister George and her mystery correspondent pass notes in the pages of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The Library becomes an integral part of the story, allowing people to express in letters what they are unable or unwilling to say face-to-face. The notes and letters show the ability of words to record snippets of people’s lives, even when they are no longer with us, to be rediscovered in quiet moments.
The references to literature are many and varied, making this story appealing to a wide audience. There are mentions of other contemporary Australian authors such as Kirsty Eagar, and other recent books such as The Fault in Our Stars and Cloud Atlas.
Almost every character in this story is experiencing a loss of some kind, whether it be a family member, a best friend, a girlfriend or a home. Despite all the loss, there is a feeling of hope that gradually creeps in as the story goes on. Henry helps Rachel to understand that it’s okay to be depressed and withdrawn after a traumatic event. Just being near Henry and her other friends helps Rachel to reconnect with the world, and start to emerge from her grief.
You’ll find Words in Deep Blue on the young adult shelf in your local bookshop, but book lovers of all ages will find something to smile at within the pages.