When Rachel’s brother, Cal, drowns in the ocean, she fails her last year of school and is lost. Worried for her, Rachel’s mother insists she spend a year in Gracetown, where they moved from three years ago, and live with Mom’s sister, Rachel’s aunt, Rose. Rachel agrees and is glad Rose has secured her a job at the hospital where she works so Rachel might not run into anyone that she used to know. Like Henry. Henry, who ignored the letter she left in the Prufrock in the Howling Books’ Letter Library. Henry, who chose to spend the last night of the world with Amy instead of Rachel. Henry, with whom Rachel was desperately in love but that love was, apparently, unreciprocated. Because fate is cruel (or is fate merciful?), the hospital job falls through and Rachel is forced to work at Howling Books. The bookstore owned by Henry’s family. The bookstore where Henry works and lives (literally). She’s determined to do the job which will mean seeing everyone she doesn’t want to see. They don’t know about Cal. And she can’t bring herself to tell them.
What follows is the story of Henry and Rachel renewing their friendship. He is grieving over his recent loss of Amy (although he shouldn’t be surprised - she leaves him and comes back to him all the time) and he is hurt by Rachel’s being gone for three years with very little contact. Will she confront him about the long-ago letter? Will she tell him about Cal? Will Henry go back to Amy? Or will he finally realize that true love has been right in front of him (or not too far away) for all this time?
Although this story is predictable, it is WONDERFUL. It is an absolute must-read for anyone who considers him or herself to be a book lover. Howling Books is a central focus of the story (almost like a character in itself), primarily the Letter Library section of the store. The Letter Library is a collection of books that are not for sale and individual books cannot be taken from the library. People add books that they have loved to the library - books full of notes, highlights, and underlined passages. Over time, it became a place where friends and lovers and secret admirers would exchange letters. Rachel left a letter to Henry in the Prufrock because she knew it was his favorite and he had recently read aloud to her a poem from that same book. She knew he would find it there. He didn’t. Henry’s sister, George, has been exchanging letters with an admirer for years. When the letters suddenly stop, she wonders why. Henry’s parents struggle with what to do with the library and the bookstore. It makes no money and will give no solid future to their children. The fate of Howling Books feels connected to the fate of Henry and Rachel and George and Martin and Henry’s parents and all of the other beautiful people that love and are a part of life at the store. For older readers, there’s a definite “You’ve Got Mail” vibe that will melt your heart. Teens will love Henry’s heart, intellect, wit, and friendliness and will hurt for Rachel’s loss and search for peace. I highly recommend the audio as the narrators are Australian. Their accents really add to the setting and tone of the story.