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 know when you just love a book so much that you’re hesitant to start writing your review because you’re afraid that you wouldn’t be able to capture the pure beauty and eloquence of the novel you’re writing about? Well that’s what I’m feeling right now. It’s hard to find the right words to describe how much I loved reading Words in Deep Blue because this stunning piece of prose is something that, I feel, transcends the label of ‘Aussie YA fiction’ because I think it stretches far beyond that. Not only is Crowley’s novel one that’s already been read and adored by innumerable Aussie book-lovers, but I believe that Words in Deep Blue will be passed on from the initial readers to everyone they know, breaking through the ‘Young Adults Only’ stereotype and becoming one of the most powerful novels in #LoveOzYA history — a position that other novelists will aspire to attain. This novel was simply phenomenal.
I think one of the most beautiful things about picking up a new book you haven’t heard much about is that it gives the book the freedom to completely win you over in ways you could never have expected and sear itself on your heart before other reviewers have had the chance to formulate your opinions before you’ve even turned the first page. I was lucky to receive an ARC of Words in Deep Blue so I had my hands on a copy before anyone else. While I was expecting to enjoy it, I really didn’t expect for it to make such a deep and lasting impression on me in the way that it did. The writing fluctuated between being exceptionally poetic and heart-wrenchingly raw; Cath Crowley seamlessly wove together captivating descriptions and honest, realistic dialogue to form a truly unforgettable story from one of the finest Australian voices of our time.
One of the things I loved most about Words in Deep Blue was the entrancing atmosphere. If you’ve ever been into a used book store, you’ll be able to identify with the strange wistfulness that comes with the smell of old paper, the feeling of safety produced by those tall shelves overflowing with books with yellowed pages and nothing but the soft sound of pages turning, a silent world forming in the reader’s mind. Crowley’s novel perfectly captured this aesthetic, allowing readers to be transported to Howling Books and fall seamlessly into the narrative itself. Even writing this review I’m feeling that peculiar sense of nostalgia that only accompanies the very best books out there; the ones that seem to call you from their place on the shelf and make you want to put down whatever you’re currently reading and submerge yourself in that familiar narrative of love and loss once again. Its brilliance is haunting — the kind that will linger in your mind for long after you’ve turned the final page.
I absolutely adored one of the key ideas behind all the poetic beauty — the idea that people leave each other, or sometimes no one in particular, little messages or letters in books. I’d never thought this was something people did before and as someone who is more than a little bit fussy about the condition my books are in, I would shudder at the thought of anyone writing in a book. However, Words in Deep Blue completely changed my opinion. Cath Crowley explores how writing little messages in books is to leave your print on the world and perfectly capture a moment in time on the pages of timeless books. While Words in Deep Blue is mainly told in the usual novel format, there are letters from the books from the Letter Library (a section of the bookstore where customers can leave notes or letters in books that don’t leave the store) which tell tales of love and heartbreak, and even where people note their deepest secrets anonymously. This novel made me want to make notes in my books, highlight my favourite quotes, and be unafraid of little bends and creases that show how much a book has lived and is loved. And for me, that’s really something.
Rachel’s story was both heartbreaking and touching, and I loved getting to know her and seeing her navigate the treacherous seas of trying to get past the death of someone incredibly close to you and learn to live again. She was filled by grief and heartache and the fact that she hid it from everyone made it all the more painful to read about. There were so many times when I just wanted to hug her, and there were so many more times when all I could do was cry. The way she hid her pain behind a smile that cracked when everyone looked away is all too real for anyone who’s tried to hide how much they’re hurting inside from your friends or family. But ultimately, Rachel’s story allows us to realise that admitting you’re hurting isn’t a bad thing — it’s actually an incredibly brave thing. To stand up and speak openly about how you’re suffering is the first step to not stop grieving, but start living with it in a different way. And the type of grief Rachel was living with wasn’t something that would ever go away fully, it would just hurt less as time went on.
While I enjoyed reading about Henry, the thing I loved most about him was the way he enabled Crowley to fully explore the theme of family. As something that’s often missing in a lot of YA novels, it was quite wonderful to see it play more of a major role in Words in Deep Blue. I absolutely adored reading about all the family interactions — the weekly dinners at the local asian cuisine restaurant and the running of the bookstore — and even the trouble they encountered as a unit. Their relationships all felt incredibly real and the hardships they encountered made the narrative even more compelling and genuine. Even the more minor characters felt well-developed and complex, and I loved how Crowley gave each and every person a backstory and goals and unique traits, enabling them to be people and not just a plot device.
Words in Deep Blue is a homage to all book lovers, drawing the reader into a world of used book stores where love letters and placed carefully between the yellowed pages of well-loved hardbacks and notes scrawled in the margins capture a moment in time that is preserved indefinitely. Cath Crowley’s poignant tale of love, loss, family and friendship is one that will sear itself on the hearts of everyone who reads it.
Have you read Words in Deep Blue yet? Do you write in your books or highlight special quotes, or do you like to keep your books pristine? Do you go to used book stores often? What’s some of your favourite #LoveOzYA novels? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Don’t forget to have a look at some of the other blogs that have participated in the Words in Deep Blue blog tour!