Rachel is returning to Gracetown where she grew up. She has been living with her grandmother by the sea for three years, but after her younger brother Cal drowns she cannot be near the ocean, looking for ‘the relief of concrete, and the absence of sea,’ and the anonymity of a big city.
She had her life mapped out – boyfriend Joel, ‘travel, university, freedom’. She has failed year twelve, and all of these plans have gone out the window and she needs to get a job.
She moves in with her aunt, Rose, who gets her a position working at Howling Books, which her old friend Henry’s parents own. When she moved she left Henry a letter in the bookshop’s Letter Library, telling him her real feelings for him. But when he doesn’t respond, and hooks up with Amy, she doesn’t speak to him again. Until they end up working together.
Henry is still with Amy, on and off, and believes she is the one for him. He sees Rachel as his best friend, at least they were. They met in primary school and share a love of books ‘down to the full stops … in a way that’s beyond logic and reason’.
The book is dotted with letters that are left in the Letter Library, by Rachel and Henry, but also Henry’s parents Sophia and Michael, who also share a love of reading and the bookshop, but are now separated. Henry’s younger sister George exchanges letter with the mystery boy, Pytheas, and then Martin.
This is a beautiful book for young, and older adults who love books and reading. It asks ‘Why some people get what they want and why some people don’t’. It looks at identity, difference, sexuality, but mostly it is about the power of the written, and spoken word. That words have meaning and value as do books, bookshops, and handwritten letters.