If you’re looking for a novel this summer that will inspire thought about all of life’s big topics, like love, sex, kissing, loss, and death, Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue is that book. Although a simple-looking book on the surface, Words in Deep Blue packs a philosophically powerful punch by asking some tough questions, inviting the reader to wrestle with a variety of options about topics that matter, questions like: Are all worthwhile things—like love and the ocean’s depths—also terrifying? It poses some theories, too—about how people are like secondhand books, full of mysteries, or how science attracts us because it is rich with possibility.
Not only the topics are fascinating, so are the characters. The Jones family owns Howling Books—Sophia, Michael, George, and Henry all love books, and they share that passion with others, especially in the Letter Library of the bookshop. In the Letter Library, customers are allowed to write in the books; they can circle words that they love, highlight lines, leave notes in the margins, or record thoughts about the meaning of life. Whether readers actually write their thoughts or dreams, they leave behind a part of themselves in the experiences they share with an author’s characters. They come away changed.
Readers will find themselves touched by or connected to the characters Crowley creates: George Jones is a goth girl with a blue stripe in her hair, a girl who won’t change just to fit in, who is fascinated by characters who have lost everything or who live in a world where it’s dangerous to think for themselves. George’s brother, Henry is gentle, funny, smelling of peppermint and cedar. He believes that we leave parts of ourselves on the pages of the books that we read. Rachel Sweetie is funny, smart, loyal, and a little over-organized. She has lost her brother, Cal, and the loss has paralyzed her, making it difficult to live again. Characters like Amy, Rose, Martin, Greg, Frederick, and Lola make-up the supporting cast.
Words in Deep Blue is also a love story, about loving too much, about the riskiness and messiness of human relationships, about a love that we savor like watermelon in summer, explored down to the rind, about falling in love with the wrong person, or about a love that doesn’t last. On this topic, Michael’s words resonate with us: “If we gave up on the things we love when it gets hard, it’d be a terrible world” (58), as do Frederick’s: “We cannot choose who is taken from us, or the way in which they are taken” . . . , but we do have choices . . . about whether or not we decide to take the risk and live again” (259).
And words, it turns out, are transformational. With words we communicate our thoughts, share secret parts of ourselves, give life to the imagination or to our fears, proclaim our love, describe our happiness, or tell ourselves to heal. Some of that healing we might find in books or in friends or even in beliefs like the transmigration of the soul or “the transmigration of memory that happens all the time—saving people the only way we can—holding the dead here with their stories, with their marks on the page, with their histories” (232).
Finally, Crowley’s book shares certain truths: That ghosts might merely be dust and imagination, but they also hide in the things we leave behind; that shitness has a momentum that good luck just doesn’t have; or that sometimes science isn’t enough; sometimes we need the poets. But the truest truth of them all is that “we lose things, but sometimes they come back. Life doesn’t always happen in the order you want” (252).
- Posted by Donna