Words in Deep Blue
Young Adult Fiction
Words in Deep Blue is an Australian young adult novel by Cath Crowley, exploring grief, death, forgiveness and friendship. With lyrical prose and interspersed poems placed throughout the story, this novel is something to be devoured in a short space of time.
Rachel Sweetie and Henry Jones were once best friends, before Henry rejected her and Rachel’s family moved away. But after the tragic death of her brother Cal, Rachel’s family moves back to their hometown and she returns to work at the second-hand bookshop Howling Books – owned by Henry’s family. This bookstore has a ‘Letter Library’ where the books aren’t for sale and readers can write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets and place them inside the books that they love and admire. And it is here that Rachel and Henry attempt to reconcile their history and their differences and start over as friends.
When I pull level with Howling Books, Henry’s sitting behind the counter on a stool: heels hooked on the rung at the bottom of it, elbows on knees, book in hands, completely focused. The only sign that three years have passed is that I don’t want to kiss him. There’s a mild urge to kick him, but that’s about it.
Both of the main characters are grieving. Rachel’s brother has died, she’s failed school, and she feels lost. Henry’s grieving the impending closure of their family bookshop, his failing relationship, and Rachel’s return to town. They’re both searching for their identity within this one tiny bookshop, and they’re both coming to terms with the once-strong but now crumbled friendship that they share.
Words in Deep Blue alternates point of view between Rachel and Henry and the occasional poem – it’s a divine, beautiful story full of heart. Cath Crowley is an extremely talented writer. The prose is effortless and the dialogue is realistic and the social relations in the book closely resemble society in real life. Cath has a talent for establishing the slow build, where the characters grow and mature and get over their differences without them even recognising it. The reader empathises for both Rachel and Henry, who are both grieving and both feel that they don’t know where their life is headed.
It’s typical Rachel. She loves being organised. She loves stationary. She was the kind of girl who always had a never-ending supply of those little fluorescent sticky notes and she wrote on them, word for word, what the teacher said. In English, she’d peel off the note and press it to the appropriate page of her novel like it solved the mystery of that word or sentence and why the author had put it on the page. I found one of those notes about a month after she’d moved. It had slipped from one of her novels while she was at the shop, and it read: This line sums up the meaning of everything. Loose from the book, it was tantalising and completely useless.
This book is not just about the developing romance between the characters. Words in Deep Blue also explores family and friendships as well. Rachel shut out most of her friends after her brother died, and when she returns none of them even know. She has to learn to let them in and let them be a part of her life again. And Henry, who has spent years dating a horrible girl who doesn’t treat him very well, has to learn to be single and happy and he needs to realise that he shouldn’t go after her. For the first time, he needs to realise that he’s better off without her. His family also have to decide what to do about closing the bookshop, and even though Henry knows that financially it’s the right thing to do, he doesn’t want to close the shop and cut off all of the beautiful memories and moments he’s experienced inside those walls.
This novel is delightful and enjoyable, but it’s also sad and reverent. It’s a character-driven story and the reader really invests themselves in Rachel and Henry’s story. Words in Deep Blue highlights that grief is very different for each person, and it can take different lengths of time for individuals to conquer their grief and move on from it. Sometimes there is a humour in grief, a certain lightheartedness as you work to overcome your fears and doubts. Sometimes even when you’re at your most vulnerable, you are also more open, and this is a theme explored in the book. Cath Crowley does a wonderful job of capturing these human experiences, and it makes for an enjoyable and delightful read.