My rating: 5 of 5 stars
At first glance, it’s the typical rom-com type scenario: Girl (in this case, Rachel) loves Boy (Henry), Boy loves Other Girl (in this case, Amy), and then hilarious hijinx ensues. Then, as you read it, you realize that there are many really wonderfully complex layers!
Rachel is dealing with the loss of her brother, which creates an obvious rift between her and almost everyone she knows and interacts with. Meanwhile, Henry has broken up with the girl he thinks is “the one,” and also is faced with the possibility of losing the one thing that his family loves: their bookshop. Throughout the book, we are faced with whether or not the two will end up together, or if Rachel is too broken to even be normal, let alone fall (back) in love, or if Henry will ever realize what a jerk Amy is so he can see Rachel as an option.
If that wasn’t enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, interspersed throughout the book are conversations between various characters (known and unknown) in the pages of what is known as the “letter library” located in Henry’s family’s bookshop, and these conversations sometimes happen at a point to leave you wanting to rush through them to see what is happening with Rachel and Henry. Don’t skip them! There are hints about the characters and events in those little conversations.
This is my first experience with New Adult fiction, though I’ve been curious about the genre for a while, and I find that it deals with some of the stereotypes expected in YA while adding those aforementioned layers of complexity. The vocabulary was relatively simple (like YA), but because the characters were older than their YA counterparts, they had more enriched discussions. If I’d read some of the discussions between Henry and Rachel as being spoken by young teenagers (perhaps the age of Henry’s younger sister George), I would have told you that the story was unrealistic; teenagers do NOT talk like that.
Or rather, average teenagers do not talk like that except for in limited spurts, and then, as we see with the younger sister, they also have these completely self-centered tantrum-like moments.
The interaction with George is one of the layers I was talking about. Another is the split viewpoints between Henry and Rachel. Having the ability to see in both of their heads and see where the miscommunications are happening, even realizing where Henry stands before he even realizes it, adds a layer of suspense I had not entirely expected when I realized the age of our main characters.
It’s a sign of good writing the way Crowley is able to jump back and forth between the first person POV of both our main characters, giving the reader hints as to what’s to come, but still make it believable that the characters may miss the mark.
I particularly liked the conversations that the characters had in the books, as in the written letters left for one another in the letter library. It helped to add a layer of characterization to see how they interact with one another in a way that isn’t colored by their own perceptions and interpretations of events. As we see in a few chapters, the way the two characters remember events can be very different, which helps to show the unreliability of the characters to tell the tale completely accurately. It makes them more human.
I was also surprised by how deep the themes of this book go. The characters aren’t only facing the idea of love, but also how to cope with death, and the concept of the soul. They deal with ideas of the future and following one’s dreams, too. For a book that was as easy to read as this one is, it definitely wasn’t afraid to delve into some deep topics! Topics, which of course, absolutely thrilled me!
It’s been a while since I read a book that I really felt deserved 5 stars, but this one did. Partially because it surprised me at how enjoyable of a read it was. Partially because there is a great deal of skill in writing two distinctly different characters using such an intimate perspective. Partially because of the way it made me think about such deep subjects. Mostly, it’s because I felt fulfilled with this book. The themes, the character interactions, the general feeling of community in this book helped me to have faith in humanity again, and as I put it down, my whole being felt like it had been hugged.