Publishing Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Young Adult Contemporary
The Premise from the Publisher: "Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came. Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough" (RHCB).
My overall thoughts and review: I was definitely intrigued by the premise of the book because I love stories that take place in a bookshop. Howling Books is quite unique in that it is a second hand bookstore, but so much more than that. It is a place that is home to Henry and his sister, George. It used to be a flower shop, and it is a place that many people have fallen in love. The bookshop also has a letter library which is particularly special because letters are a big part of the book.
"It's called the Letter Library because a lot of people write more than a note in the margin--they write whole letters and put them between the pages of books. Letters to the poets, to their thief ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend who stole their copy of High Fidelity. Mostly people write to strangers who love the same books as them--and some stranger, somewhere, writes back" (27)The story is told from two perspectives: Henry & Rachel. Rachel moved away three years ago, but before that, she wrote Henry a letter professing her love for him and saying how he deserves better than his current girlfriend, Amy. Flashforward to the present, Rachel finds herself returning to Gracetown after the sudden death of her brother, Cal. She is in deep depression and her life plans have simply fallen apart. Life in general is difficult for Rachel, as her and Cal were extremely close, and this death has shaken not only her, but her mother as well. She finds herself moving in with her aunt Rose to find a job for the year because she has failed year 12. She knows that coming back to Gracetown means seeing Henry again, but she is sure that she is in fact over him and angry about him not acknowledging her letter years back. Henry, on the otherhand, has just recently been dumped by Amy, soon after they made promises to travel the world together. His parents are also thinking of selling Howling Books because it is not making enough, and he's determined to befriend Rachel once again. I really liked how their story developed. Crowley wove together their past in a really nice way, and I loved their dynamic. I will say that Henry did drive me insane a bit for how hung up and whiny he was when it came to Amy. But I really liked Henry as a brother to his sister, George, and just how he was in general to other characters. He was quite sweet and tried his best. Rachel, I just loved. I empathized with her so much in her grieving and mourning, since I know what it feels like to lose a loved one. You feel cheated in time and memories, and she really conveyed that. I loved seeing her not overcome her grief, but coming to terms with it, and learning to live with it.
The part of the book that I loved the most is definitely George's story. She started receiving letters from this mysterious 'Pytheas' and a beautiful friendship blossomed from that. It was so pure and special and it made me swoon reading the letters. I really loved George as a character and seeing how she has built up a shield overtime, but it was slowly breaking as she found herself opening up to Pytheas, Rachel, and even Martin. I don't want to say more than that because of spoilers, but I cried my eyes out at some parts. In the words of my co-worker Kim, it was the big tears and ugly crying that happened. The book touches on memory, and how one's memory lives on in the margins and this just reaffirms how special books are for me as a reader. I am one of those readers that will occasionally underline things, and I love when people address the first page to me when giving me a book as a gift, and more. This book is about the relationship we have with words. I loved that so much, but most importantly, it's a great book about memory and life/death. This gave me a different outlook on how to approach grief, and that death is not the end but rather a form of transmigration: "..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. It's a very beautiful idea.." (232). It also touches on how there will be things in life that will hurt, and completely break us, but that it can also be what makes us: "It will be fine and it won't be. It will be terrible and good" (269). The immense strength that these characters have in this book is simply outstanding and an inspiration. I can't say enough good things about this book. It is a short read, but it just hits all the notes. Please go pick up a copy and annotate the passages you love, and pass it on. It's the kind of book that will make you fall in love with characters, but also making you fall in love with reading all over again.
My rating of the book: ✮✮✮✮✮ (5/5 stars)
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Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of the book was provided by Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.