Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: "Words in Deep Blue" by Cath Crowley

Seriously. This book had me sobbing like I haven't since All the Bright Places or maybe even Me Before You, although there's not quite the same level of tragedy. But as I was crying so hard I wet my t-shirt (don't judge), at the same time I was thinking that I may very well become obsessed with Cath Crowley's writing after this one.

Henry and Rachel were best friends. They were utterly inseparable, and the truth is, Rachel was in love with Henry. She knew that Henry was fascinated by Amy, the pretty new girl in school, but she figured she needed to tell him how she felt before she moved away. So she wrote him a letter and tucked it inside his favorite book at his family's bookshop, and she waited for him to come to her.

He never showed up, and he texted her to say he overslept the morning she was leaving. She realized that it was time to put Henry and their relationship behind her. So she left town, and didn't respond to his letters or any of his attempts at contact. She built a new life for herself, one without Henry.

Three years later, Rachel returns to her hometown. So much has changed, most notably, her brother drowned, making it impossible to be near the water, which was her most favorite place to be. She is unable to feel, unable to derive any joy out of her life, so her mother sends her to live with her aunt. And although the one thing Rachel wants to do is avoid seeing Henry altogether, it's completely unavoidable, since they'll be working together in the bookshop.

Henry, meanwhile, doesn't understand how his best friend could have forgotten him. He doesn't understand why she's so angry, so closed off, so unwilling to laugh with him or tell him anything. But Henry has his own crises to contend with—Amy has broken up with him (again), and started dating the handsome jerk from high school, and his divorcing parents are fighting over whether to sell the bookshop. He doesn't know a life that doesn't include the shop—his family lives above it, after all—but at the same time he wonders if selling might make the most sense, since he would finally have the money to treat Amy the way she wants to be treated, when she realizes it's Henry she loves.

The bookshop is known throughout Australia for its Letter Library, a collection of books in which people have left letters (or written things) for others throughout the years. Flipping the pages of any of these books provides a glimpse into the beauty and imperfections of love, infatuation, grief, anger, and joy. As Rachel works to catalog the markings inside these books, she realizes that perhaps she needs to open herself up to life a little bit again, and discovers some of her fears about her brother's short life, fears that have paralyzed her, aren't true.

As Henry and Rachel try to rebuild their friendship, they must contend with the secret she's been hiding about her brother, as well as the three-year-old elephant in the room. But Henry still can't figure out what he wants from life—romantically or from the bookshop. Both of them must take a leap when the very thought of stepping outside their comfort zone is more than they can handle.

"What's the point in living on past the moment when those we have loved have left us? And how can we ever forgive ourselves for letting them go?"

Words in Deep Blue is emotional, angsty, moving, and occasionally frustrating, but it is just so good. (I haven't even touched on the parallel storyline featuring Henry's younger sister.) Yes, I wanted to beat the crap out of Henry for most of the book, but he's a pretty authentic teenage guy, who wants what he wants regardless of how others feel. And while I get irritated when characters could move forward if only they would say what needs to be said but they don't, this, too, is more like life than fiction.

Not everyone out there is into YA, but this is a pretty terrific YA book. I love that the characters aren't refugees from a John Hughes film or a John Green book—while perhaps they're a bit more erudite than typical recent high school graduates, they're not coming up with bon mots you want to write down and try out on your friends either. (Or is that just me.) This is a book that made me feel, yes, all the feels.

Cath Crowley, can't wait for your next book. But perhaps a warning I'll need Visine next time?

1 comment:

  1. Definitely going to pick it up soon after this review!