If you only read the inside flap of Cath Crowley’s latest novel “Words in Deep Blue” you might think to yourself that this is yet another YA novel about unrequited love and best friendship gone wrong. Sure, those elements are in there but Crowley weaves so much more into what seems like an all too familiar trope.
Rachel and Henry were the best of friends in their young childhood days. They told each other everything, knew each other deeply, and had a brotherly/ sisterly affection for one another. That is until they became teenagers and Rachel started to feel more for Henry than would be decent for brother and sister. Rachel is forced to move to another town by the sea with her family and on the night before she leaves, she writes Henry a love letter explaining her feelings and asks for him to show up the next morning to see her off and tell her if he feels the same. The next morning comes and goes without so much as a whisper from Henry and Rachel slinks into embarrassment so deep that she doesn’t return any of Henry’s letters or phone calls for three years.
During the interim of their friendship, both Henry and Rachel go through their own trials and tribulations; they date other people, make new friends, and deal with their own family drama. Henry is in love with a girl that repeatedly breaks his heart while he is also trying to manage his family’s failing bookshop. When Rachel inevitably makes her return into Henry’s life he cannot seem to recognize his former best friend anymore. Something is so fundamentally different about her that he assumes something bad must have happened to her. Rachel elects not to tell him about the death of her brother Cal. Her grief has consumed her and she can’t find the right words to tell him all that she has been feeling since her brother’s death.
The crux of this story centers around Henry’s family bookshop and the Letter Library within it. The Letter Library contains copies of books that have notes in the margins or letters between the pages and people often write back. For a scientific and fact-based person like Rachel, the Letter Library is nice but “words can’t bring people back from the dead” and for Henry, a romantic optimist, the Letter Library is essential to life itself because “sometimes science isn’t enough. Sometimes you need the poets.” Both of them are right of course, but the existential questions they pose from each side of the argument is what makes this story so enjoyable. The growth of these characters happens through words exchanged in this library, even if the words are not their own.
I couldn’t put this book down once I opened it. If it wasn’t for well, life, I would have finished it in one day instead of two. Crowley’s writing style is easily digestible and leaves sweet flavors of contemplation that linger for hours and make you want more. She made me really think about the power of words and the many ways in which we use them. Both the major and minor characters felt genuine and the things they faced were believable and sympathetic. The story is told in an alternating point-of-view between Rachel and Henry, and is also sprinkled with words from other voices. There is no explicit content though there is mild sexual activity and underage drinking (although the few scenes drinking is involved in don’t count because technically the legal drinking age in Australia is 18). I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t believe that “words will never hurt them.”