This is a love story. It’s the story of a second-hand bookshop called Howling Books where people leave letters to strangers, or those they love, or want to love, between the pages of books in the Letter Library.
Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie are best friends. Or they were. Before Rachel moved away to the sea. Now, she’s back, grieving for her brother Cal who drowned in the sea that he loved.
Rachel loves Henry. Henry loves Amy. Amy loves Amy but is happy for Henry to love her too.
This is a book about books. About the power of literature to cradle our past, present and future selves. It’s about how we leave ourselves behind when we die. How we leave our histories in the things we love – like books.
Thank you Jenna from Reading with Jenna for the copy! ❤
Aw man, feels out for this book. On the cover it says “a love story” but quite honestly I never really got into that because of one main problem. What I did get into was the amazing exploration of grief and the hope that comes with it. I teared at some points because Crowley’s gorgeous writing just touched my heart, and never before have I been so conscious about the importance of words. This contemporary book will definitely pull on readers’ heartstrings as we navigate the friendships and romances of different characters.
We follow the book from the first hand alternating POV’s of Henry and Rachel, who used to be best friends throughout school. This all changed when Henry started dating the egocentric Amy and Rachel’s unrequited feelings grew more and more ignored. Through a series of circumstances, Rachel’s letter of confession never makes it to Henry without her knowing, causing a rift in their friend relationship right before she moves away. This book starts after the death of Rachel’s brother, Cal, in a drowning accident, and her family moving back to the city. I absolutely adored the setting of the cozy second-hand bookstore! It was so cute and touching and you could really tell how it’s the little things that makes it so unique.
“Second-hand books are full of mysteries, which is why I like them.”
I also really liked exploring the side characters in this book, who each got amazing characterizations (except for some drama people but let’s forget they existed). There’s Henry’s sister George, whose unique personality caused some social issues with peers at school, Martin, who sees George beyond the names people call her, and Frederick, a regular at the bookstore who is searching for a specific edition of a book. Never have I connected to a dead character as much as I did with Cal in this book, who had such a bright and memorable personality that I could imagine him alive and interacting with the characters. His love of the ocean and natural curiosity just really leap off the pages, as well as with all the other characters. They made my heart ache, they made me laugh out loud, and they made me realize just how fragile our relationships are. This story may have been told from Rachel and Henry’s perspectives, but the side characters really shined out as well.
“‘If my future already exists somewhere, I don’t want to know. I want to live under the illusion that I have complete control over my life so I’m going with the growing block universe theory,’ Henry says.”
Ahhh, I wanted to reach out to Rachel and give her a huge hug multiple times throughout the story. She is dealing with the death of her brother, and months afterwards is not over it. She failed Year 12, doesn’t really know where to lead her life, and is basically a drifting cloud with tons of unspent emotion. This changes when she rekindles her friendships with Lola, a vivacious musician, and Henry. Through a journey in the bookstore (or more specifically, organizing the Letter Library), Rachel starts changing her hard-headed views and gradually mends her healing heart after the gaping hole left by her brother.
Henry has to deal with monumental changes in life as well, such as the selling of the bookstore. It’s not really doing well, and although it’s the pride and joy of his family, his mother is trying to convince them on how much they’ll profit with the sale. It really broke my heart to see how much Henry’s father loved the bookstore and his passive acceptance to the kids’ choices on selling it. But I really love the way Crowley resolves this particular situation, especially in regards to all the messages in the Letter Library.
I was pretty excited for the friends-to-romance storyline in the book but I really couldn’t get into it because Henry was basically a blind fool throughout it all. He went along with Amy’s manipulations for a really long time in the book and I was ready to reach into the book and smack him in the head. For someone who is so intelligent and fond of reading, I was surprised at how blind-sided he was about Amy. However, the little tidbits with Amy and Henry’s developing friendship was really really sweet to read about. They give each other support throughout the hard times and just really click together. It just makes me so mad it takes so long for Henry to see it. I was really disappointed about the way Henry acted in regards to the bookstore and his best friend, but I can also attribute that to how real his character was. Sometimes we make mistakes that we learn from, and you can definitely tell by his actions in the end that he learned his.
“If they were just words then people wouldn’t fall in love because of them, feel bad because of them, ache because of them, stop aching because of them, have sex, quite a lot of the time, because of them.”
Honestly, Henry was such a fool about girls that I couldn’t get into the romance as much as I wanted. This definitely won’t be a problem with other readers but I guess I expected more from such an endearing character. I however did enjoy the characters’ friendships, and how they kept each other grounded. I loved reading the little letters in the Letter Library and seeing relationships develop and end through them – even the seemingly small anonymous ones. Crowley’s words are so poignant and full of emotion that you can’t help but clutch your heart (literally or mentally) because of all the feels. Despite the slow pacing, she does an excellent exploration of grief and the importance of words. Contemporary readers really shouldn’t miss out on those, and readers looking for a heart-tugging read should consider picking this one up.