To participate, just create a piece of prose or poetry in fewer than 51 words, post it somewhere and then link it up to the linky in my post on Monday. For more information on how to play and for future prompts, just click here.
Today’s book is a bit of an unusual choice for we shelf denizens, given its high lovey-dovey content, but we absolutely enjoyed diving into its unusual format and premise. We received Words in Deep Blue by Cat Crowley from the publisher via Netgalley and here is the blurb from Goodreads:
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.
You would be forgiven for assuming that a first-line like that one would cause me to immediately roll my eyes, gnash my teeth and run in the opposite direction, but I will admit to being caught by the second line. The reference to readers writing letters drew me in and I’m glad it did because this really is a coming-of-age story worth getting stuck in to.
The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Rachel and Henry, ex-best friends who have drifted apart amidst deliberation (Rachel) and confusion (Henry). Rachel has spent a recent stint away from the town in which she and Henry grew up, nursing grief for the sudden death of her brother and enmity towards Henry, for falling in love with a someone who isn’t Rachel. Henry, meanwhile, has remained working at his parents’ quirky, failing secondhand bookstore, Howling Books, being tossed on the winds of love by his on-again, off-again girlfriend Amy, and wondering why Rachel is shunning him so completely. In an unexpected turn of events, Rachel finds herself back in her home town and back facing Henry over a gulf of grief that she can’t put into words. Henry finds Rachel just as Amy seems to have finally called it quits for good, and his parents mull over whether or not to sell their beloved bookstore, and with it, it would seem, the family’s one safe port in a stormy world.
There’s a real sense of warmth and innocence underpinning Henry’s parts of the novel. While obviously a bit of a homebody who still needs the security of family and stability, Henry is thrust into some major life changes that are out of his control. Rachel on the other hand, is prickly, standoffish, and bizarrely protective of her grief, to the point that she won’t reveal the fact of her brother’s recent death to anyone from her hometown. Both the main characters (and all the others!) are gently flawed and I found a great appeal in seeing how they slowly move toward embracing or rejecting the new opportunities opening up.
The most fantastic non-human character in the story is, of course, Henry’s family’s bookstore, Howling Books. The descriptions of it make it sound like the most comfortable, lived-in (both figuratively and literally), enticing little book nook that could ever be, and so the thought of losing it struck me almost as hard as it strikes Henry. I absolutely adored the idea of the Letter Library – a section in the shop where customers can write letters to friends, lovers, strangers – whoever! – and leave them to be found within the pages of the Letter Library tomes. There is a clever sub-plot relating to Henry’s sister George that utilises this method, and other characters’ stories are fleshed out through glimpses into the letters left within the pages of the books.
I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves books about bookshops, readers and literature changing lives. The romance stuff isn’t rammed down your throat, even though it is a main focus of the book, because it feels like an authentic coming-of-age tale rather than a typical YA love triangle type story. Despite the difficult themes of grief and growing up within the book there is an undeniable charm and geniality that exudes, I suspect, mostly from Howling Books, and keeps the overall reading experience buoyant. I will think back on this one with fondness and make the startling (for me!) claim that if you only read one book featuring broken hearts this year, you could do a damn sight worse than this one.
Until next time,