Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Words in Deep Blue
by Cath Crowley

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. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore.

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.

(cover image and synopsis lifted from Goodreads)

Series: Standalone
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date:  June 6th 2017 (first published August 30th 2016)
Source/Format: eARC via Netgalley
Purchase links: Amazon Barnes&Noble | Book Depository
My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts:
“Words in Deep Blue” is not much about whether Rachel and Henry belong to each other even after years of distance and falling out. The book never puts a doubt to the answer to that. The two of them were close since childhood, bestfriends in fact. Right from the first page we see Rachel’s three-year old love letter to Henry. Rachel’s been away but in the first chapter, she’s about to go back to her childhood town. Then the next chapter began with Henry’s girlfriend, Amy, breaking up with him. It’s perfect timing. The stars have aligned for Rachel and Henry to be together again.

One of the book’s pleasure comes with discovering how Rachel and Henry would finally catch on with their real feelings for each other. The book is in first person dual points of view, alternating between Rachel’s and Henry’s narration. Some same scenes in this book are seen from both their eyes, like when Henry confronted Rachel about her love letter. It’s a nice touch how the same sequences differ depending on who is telling them. The twist and turns of their love story involves the making up of their friendship, comforting each other’s grief and heartbreak, saving Henry from the bullies, an exchange of letters, saving a bookshop from being sold out and a handful of lovable supporting characters.

I love the Joneses, Henry’s family, warmth, complications and all. I want to sit with them in one of their traditional Friday family dinner solely dedicated to dumplings and book discussions. I want to visit and shop at the Howling Books, a secondhand bookstore owned by Henry’s parents. I am partial of course to Henry’s dad, Michael, and his sentimentality towards the bookstore and his favorite book, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. But I also understand Henry’s mom, Sophie, who argues for the practical side of things.  Henry’s younger sister, George, is the source of a few laughs with her snarky comments to Henry’s misery. Plus they have a bookshop cat named after an author, Ray Bradbury! You might already know that I want to be a bookshop cat or a library cat in my next life so yeah, I think I’ve seen a glimpse of my good life ahead, slinking through books and people thru Ray Bradbury. I love Rachel’s and Henry’s third bestfriend, Lola, who makes her own music with bandmate, Hiroko. I love Howling Books’ patrons, especially the sage septuagenarian Frederick. And oddly enough, my favorite character of all is Cal, Rachel’s dead brother. Cal is not just someone mentioned in passing for Rachel to mourn for. He felt so real to me. I got to know him so well – his interest on time theories, his favorite things, his letters, his hopes and dreams for the future – that I can’t help but feel for Rachel’s loss.

“Words in Deep Blue” heavily referenced a lot of books and authors. It covered a wide spectrum of genre from classics to contemporary YA, from John Steinbeck to John Green. I am honestly not familiar with every literary citations but I mildly obsessed about the idea of maybe checking them out later that I took notes and made a list of all the books mentioned in the book. (UPDATE: I made a Goodreads shelf, too) The plot is not that extraordinary but the writing is exquisite. There’s this beautiful mental picture that Rachel thought while lying on the floor next to Henry holding a book over their heads: “The words could rain on us, I think. I have a strange image of us drinking them.” There are many mentions of the color blue all throughout: the blue velvet couch in Howling Books’s fiction section, bluestone walls of the reading garden, Frederick’s deep-blue ties, Rachel’s 1990 dark blue Volvo, George’s dark hair with a blue stripe running down on one side, Rachel’s blue bathing suit, Rachel’s blue eyes, and even Amy wore a blue dress on one occasion. Blue, being the color of sadness maybe? I will not dwell much on the significance of the imagery but still, nice mental pictures. Sandwiched between each chapter are notes and letters in the Letter Library. These extra parts added a whole lot of charm and character to the book. The Letter Library is a special section of Howling Books, where customers are allowed to circle words and highlight the lines that they love. They may write notes in the margins or leave letters between the pages of the books. Patrons may write to anyone (to authors, to their ex-lovers, to strangers) and anyone can also write back.

“Words in Deep Blue” will surely make a bookworm’s heart flutter. The book puts the written words as the central figure that has a great effect on its characters. One character, Frederick, said that books, words, music, and art are lights that reappear in a broken universe. When we come to think of it, these things are artificial. Man-made. Words are only strings of letters. Words are mundane, we use them everyday. They are just that, words. But most times when put together, they become stories or poems or songs. They become magic that conjures feelings and inspirations. They can hurt, but more importantly, can also heal and give us hope. And when written, as Rachel observed, they’ll always exist. With these thoughts in mind, I suddenly feel that we owe a lot of gratitude to all the people who put themselves out there and write. It’s thanks to their writings that words get to be shared or spoken or sung, again and again, across generations, to people who might need it the most at the moment. This is what exactly makes “Words in Deep Blue” beautiful. It’s a book about books and more. It’s a sort of tribute to written words: with all the books in Howling Boooks, to Henry’s favorite poems he recites to Rachel and to the lyrics of Lola’s and Hiroko’s songs.

Diversity Watch:
Rachel Sweetie is blond that she later bleached. She is described as a surfer Audrey Hepburn look-alike.

Henry Jones is racially indeterminate.

Lola is openly gay. She is described as short and curvy, with long brown hair and olive skin.

Hiroko is racially indeterminate but her name suggests Japanese heritage.

Mai Li's family owns Shainghai Dumplings, where the Joneses hold their Friday nights family dinner tradition. Her name suggests Chinese heritage.

Martin Gamble is one of the part-timer in Howling Books. It is mentioned that she has two mothers. 
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