Book Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue

Cath Crowley

9781101937648, $17.99, hardcover, Random House, Pub. Date: June 6, 2017

Publisher description: Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came. Now Rachel has returned to the city-and to the bookshop-to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future. Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart. As Henry and Rachel work side by side – surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages – they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

Short blurb: How much time needs to have passed in order to forgive, or to forget, or to find a way to keep on living? These and other hard life questions are explored by two teenagers working at a bookshop. Chock full of literary references, quotes, and the ephemera found in books, Words in Deep Blue is for anyone scared of taking that next step, who may have wished their real life was like one in a book.

Personal notes: Cath Crowley is an Australian author. I had hopes of discovering another Melina Marchetta, another Australian author that I adore ( I believe my love can most accurately be described as “worshipping the ground she walks on”), but sadly I was not as enamored of my first Cath Crowley title. Words in Deep Blue read to me like someone’s first published novel – a great attempt, a little unaware of itself, needing tighter editing, a little more direction, to plug up some plot holes, and to have a little less whine. Surprise to me when I found out this was not her first. 

Too much of the characterization of Rachel and Henry, the two main characters, felt either one-dimensional or cliche teen voice.  The stylistic choice of overlapping scenes/voices of these two primary narrators was more annoying than helpful. There were only one or two instances when seeing the same event from the other character’s point of view added insight; the rest of the time, it jolted me out of the story as I struggled for a second to realize that I was seeing the same scene over again. I wanted to see what was going to happen next instead. Also, I didn’t find Rachel and Henry to be the compelling characters in the novel, and yet they were its primary focus. I wanted to hear more about this aunt who shows up unannounced and is willing to let Rachel share her studio apartment with her; or more about Henry’s sister, George, with her shy, bookish, Goth-esque ways, her secret long-distance relationship with someone she suspects is Rachel’s (now dead) brother, and her burgeoning relationship with new friend Martin; or Henry’s father and mother’s relationship that led them to start the Letter Library. I would have read an entire book devoted solely to the Letter Library. In fact, as it was Rachel’s job to catalogue the ephemera, I was disappointed to not see more of it in the book itself. The characters I found most heartbreaking were the ones we heard very little about. Henry’s whining about his ex-girlfriend who was clearly a superficial, self-centered bitch, and Rachel’s understandable depression about her dead brother were not what drove this plot. It was the secondary characters, including Rachel’s best friend and the still-unresolved band she was in, that added the life and character to this novel. Next time, I would like to see all of that life and character packed into the main plot, please. Lastly, the part – SPOILER ALERT – where they mom sells the entire building to developers without the signed approval of the father (or the fact that they put the entire decision on HENRY’s shoulders in the first place?!) is completely implausible in this day and age. Clearly used only to cause drama in the story, it was a poor attempt to create conflict and resolution in one plot point. Overall, literary references and slice-of-life peek into what it’s like to work in a used bookstore aside, it was not my favorite read.

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