Sometimes I feel that it is my job to find beautiful books and tell others about them because I feel their lives will be enriched. Cath Crowley’s young adult novel, Words in deep blue, is one such book.
The story is told in first person, alternating between Henry, who has finished year 12, works in his family’s secondhand bookshop and has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Amy – and Rachel, his ex-best friend, moving back to the city after being away for three years and who lost her younger brother when he drowned at sea.
The setting had me at hello – a secondhand bookshop with a letter library. The letter library section is full of secondhand books which can’t be bought because anyone is welcome to come in and underline or highlight or write notes about their favourite lines or paragraphs. The result is layer upon layer of annotated messages between strangers, friends and lovers. People also leave letters between the pages of their favourite books for strangers, friends or lovers to find. The letters form part of the story.
The characters are well-read, appreciate nuances, discuss books, write well and care deeply. As older teenagers, they are also caught up in their world of girlfriends and boyfriends, friends, music, books, going out, lack of money, jobs, fitting in, parents, school, social media.
Here’s a passage from Rachel:
Henry read me ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ once, on a night in year 8. We were lying on the floor of the bookstore, and I’d told him that I didn’t like poetry. ‘I can’t understand it, so it never makes me feel anything.’
‘Hang on,’ he’d said, going over to the shelves.
He came back with the Prufrock. The poem did sound like a love song. As I listened I stared at a mark on the ceiling that looked like a tear-shaped sun. The mark somehow got mixed with the words.
I didn’t know exactly what ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ was about, but lying there next to Henry, with his voice so close, I wanted to disturb something. I wanted to disturb us, shake us out of him seeing me as just Rachel, his best friend. I loved the poem for making me feel like disturbance was possible. And because it said something to me about life that I wanted to know, but didn’t understand.
I stayed up way too late to finish this book, and found myself crying at one point. Because this book had disturbed me – in a good way. It holds characters with dreams and pasts, a bookshop with fluid connections between the living and the dead, the possible and the imagined.
What’s the latest (good) disturbing book you’ve read?