I don’t know if this is a review or not. I’m just going to sit and announce my thoughts – I’ve just finished it, after waiting a year and a half for it to land inside the bookshop I work in, and it’s not what I expected.
In a mostly good way.
See, all I knew about this book when I heard of it was that it was by the author of Graffiti Moon (which I stumbled on in a library years ago), it was about a girl and a boy working in a bookshop together after having History, and it was possibly a romance.
I don’t often do romancy books – but once in a while, I like to sit down and just have something light to read, and I’ve always liked books set in bookshops – I like seeing how authors themselves view those shops. I like seeing a character have the same love as I do.
Books set in bookshops are a bit like love letters themselves.
I’m going to put this out here now – I relate to Henry, but my god he isn’t half a moron. And yes, I know hes a teenage boy, thinks that his First Love is his One True and all that, but really. The more he talked about Amy, the more I wanted to pull him out of the pages and throw the book at him.
Henry is our raised-in-a-bookshop, book-loving, idiot main. I relate to him because to him, the bookshop is everything. A bookshop is the beating heart of a community and to work in one… it’s an honour. There’s a lot of differences between an indie and a chain shop, but less so between a second hand and an indie. It’s hard. You don’t work in a bookshop for money, you do it for the love. You watch customers grow – in my own, I’ve had five years to see kids growing up, customers getting married (kudos to the couple that gave their bridesmaids Terry Pratchett books as their wedding favours). I’ve had customers phone us up and ask for books on grief – and tell us that it’s someone we’ve been serving since the shop opened that has died. There is a strange feeling to this – when you work in a bookshop, you learn things about your customers and them about you.
Most of my customers know that I write. Many of them ask after that writing when they come in. They all know I read Children’s books, YA and fantasy, know that I can get even the most reluctant reader to try something. They know I used to sail, that, much like Rachel from the book, the sea calls to me in a way that’s mildly ironic when I live in one of the furthest inland places in the UK.
The whole book (of which I thought was going to be mostly lighthearted and fun) follows Henry, not only with his lack of being able to see who is right in front of him, but as he and his family think about selling this shop that is their home.
It tugged on my heart almost as much as Rachel did, because I couldn’t imagine life without the shop I work in. Couldn’t imagine walking past it to see something else open in its place – or the building gone all together.
And then theres Rachel, who comes back home and hides from all her old friends that her brother is dead. Who comes back because she can’t bear to see something she once loved – the ocean – without thinking of him and the way he died. Whose every action is dictated by the grief weighing inside her.
At times, reading, I had to pause and remember to breathe for a minute, because the way I related to her is much harder to cope with than the simple idea of losing the place I work in.
I lost someone when I was 12, and I remember that kind of grief; when even ten months later, you barely remember how to smile, how to look at something without seeing their face. He taught me how to bake. How to play the bugle.
I hid the bugle away in my room and didn’t touch it til I was 16, where all I could do was stand there and cry because I hadn’t lost my love for music, but I had lost the ability to play the instrument I always remembered him playing. I still have the bugle – at 23 – and I have never relearning it. Ten months – a year – in the grand scheme of things is nothing. Eleven years, in someones entire life, is nothing. Sometimes, as one of the characters in the book says, it feels like it’s been that long. Sometimes, it feels like it was a day ago.
But the book showed the other side of grief. Of how you can’t hide it. How your friends will always be there to help, if you tell them you need it. How, sometimes, after ten months, with the right people, your heart does start beating again, sometimes, and you relearn how to smile. Oh, they are never far from your mind, and sometimes the guilt of being happy is all consuming. But life is a journey we all move forward on – and it does get better.
This book does have problems. Firstly, that Henry is intelligent yet seems to be entirely unobservant – how the hell does he think Amy is nice. And Greg really should have had his comeuppance for what he did. Even the mother needs to be shouted at for listening but not seeing what her family is saying.
But over all, it’s a story that is understandable, believable, heartbreaking. But beautiful. Books touch us all, and the idea of this library – full of letters and notes in margins, love letters to people who may never see them – is something that I’d love to make real. And in it lies some truth – books connect us all, even when we don’t expect it.