Hardcover, 273 pages
Published June 6th 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
I have been waiting for Cath Crowley’s Words in the Deep Blue ever since I read the very excellent Graffiti Moon. Cath has a way of telling a story that sneaks underneath your skin so you feel like you are living in the world she has created and the characters she writes are your best friends too.
Words in the Deep Blue is about grief, first love, friendship, and home. The kind of home that is found in not just physical places but in people. Rachel’s younger brother drowned and she can no longer look at her beloved ocean. She returns to the city she used to live; the city where everyone thinks her brother is still alive and well. The city where her first love lives. Rachel’s life has denatured since her brother died. She failed her exams, dropped out of school, and cannot think of a future which doesn’t include her brother.
Henry lives in a bookstore. He used to have a best friend called Rachel but she left him. His parents are divorced and his sister is seriously antisocial. But things can get worse. His girlfriend dumps him for another guy, a bland boring guy that has Henry in denial. His mother wants to sell the bookstore. The one good thing is that his abandoning ex-best friend is back but she seems to have seriously changed.
Rachel gets a job at the bookstore and ignores all of Henry’s overtures of friendship. He broke her heart by not replying to the love letter she wrote him before she moved away. She doesn’t care for him anymore; her grief makes it difficult to care for anything but the hurt over the way Henry handled (or didn’t handle) her love letter lingers. She’s angry.
A host of side characters liven up the narrative but the heart of the story are Rachel and Henry. I’ll be honest; I didn’t like Henry all that much initially because the boy is just so flawed. He’s like that friend you know, pining over a girl who doesn’t like him for reasons you don’t understand. The girl clearly is using him and it irritates you to see this friend you love being hurt in this way, but he refuses to listen to you, stubbornly insisting that it is you who doesn’t understand.
Rachel, on the other hand, is made of hurt and her pain is heartbreaking–especially since she’s keeping her loss a secret. Rachel’s brother lives on in the letters he wrote in a charming courtship to Henry’s sister who has no idea that he is gone and is in the throes of her own crush.
Words in the Deep Blue is a beautiful book. It offers a sliver of lives led by adolescents dealing with their own crises in their own ways. It captures that elusive energy that characterizes youth. Furthermore, Words in the Deep Blue turns fictional characters into real people you will care about, laugh for and mourn.
I recommend it.