Author: Cath Crowley
Publisher: Pan MacMillan
Date of Publication: August 30th 2016
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley
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.
This is a love story. It is an ode to books, and to reading, to book stores and to readers. It is about words and ideas and the power they have to make or break us. It is about love and loss and pain and longing. It is beautiful. And heartbreaking.
After three years of living by the sea, Rachel can no longer stand to be where she lost her brother, Cal and returns to the fictional Melbourne suburb of Gracetown, to live with her aunt. Unable to say the words, she hasn't told anyone about Cal's death. Instead she pretends he's alive and in Europe. Her friends can't understand why she has been so distant, and Rachel can't bring herself to explain. When her aunt has had enough of her moping, she arranges a job for Rachel at Henry's bookshop. Three years ago, Rachel and Henry were best friends. Rachel was in love with Henry and left him a letter telling him how she felt, but he never responded. Hurt and angry, even after all this time, the two must find a way to coexist in the bookshop, and just maybe fix all that is broken.
Howling books is a small, second-hand book shop that is predictably feeling the strain of the current economic climate. Henry and his sister George have grown up there, among the pages and the customers. Howling Books contains a letter library - a section with books that aren't for sale. You can read them, and annotate them, and leave letters between the pages for someone to find. This is how George communicates with her secret admirer.
Rachel is hired to catalogue the lending library and all the letters and annotations inside. It's an impossible job, and one she resents at first, but it is this task that will ultimately bring her peace.
We also learn about some of the regular customers to the book store, such as Frederick, who has spent years searching for one particular book.
I really did enjoy this book, but there were a couple of things that gave me pause early on. References to actual and recent books jerk me out of the story. I don't know why this is, and it's definitely a problem with me as a reader rather than with the text itself, but I find it jarring. I also don't like when books are set in fictional parts of cities I know well. It annoys me, and I try and work out where it's "actually" set. This is only really an issue for books set in places I've lived, and again, I know this is me, not the author's fault, but I couldn't help thinking that Gracetown is not a Melbourne name. "town" isn't a common suffix in Melbourne suburbs (Williamstown and Thomastown being the only two I can think of) so it kept pulling me out of the story to be irritated. If the book was set in a suburb of Sydney or Brisbane, this wouldn't have bothered me.
Words in Deep Blue is a book for book lovers which will appeal to both teen and adult readers. Go read it now. Have tissues handy.