‘Words in Deep Blue’ by Cath Crowley
Copy received from Pan Macmillan for review (first one, hurrah!)
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. She’s looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.
I should make it clear that I was always going to love this book. Even if it is a love story – and I keep telling people I hate those – it is a novel set mostly in a bookshop, so when I picked it up I was prepared to love it.
Then I read the first page, which contains this quote from Kafka
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.
and I had to put the book down for a while because I just couldn’t face the heartbreak this implied.
A lot of the contemporary YA I read goes heavy on the emotional trauma. I feel as though Australian YA does this well (you like The Fault in Our Stars? Get hold of Zac & Mia and let me know how you fare). Here we have Rachel, grieving for her brother, running from the sea that claimed him back to the city. I was reminded of Trinity Doyle’s Pieces of Sky, another recent #OzYA novel, which also featured a dead brother and the sea.
But in this book, to balance Rachel’s grief, we have Henry: sweet and sarcastic, and besotted with Amy (who has just dumped him AGAIN).
These two characters (the entire cast, actually) are so well realised. I felt for Rachel, with her raw loss and intense need for privacy. Henry, however, was the one I connected with – perhaps because of the bookselling. I adored him even when he was being an ass. When things were going pear-shaped, mainly because Rachel and Henry weren’t TALKING, I felt an unreasonable amount of angst. I can’t remember the last time I was this invested in a fictional romance. We also get to sit with Rachel as she discovers meaning in words and stories again. I was right to keep the tissues handy.
Words in Deep Blue is sad and sweet and gorgeously written. And I haven’t even mentioned the literary references (from Dickens to ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’), or Henry’s prickly sister George, or the Letter Library, where people leave notes between the pages of their favourite books. I was thrilled with ALL of it. Put it on your to-read lists.