Book Review: The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels

Kait's Bookshelf The Words Between UsThis month I am thrilled to be a part of the Revell Reads blog tour for Erin Bartels’s newest release, The Words Between Us. I was drawn to this book right away by – you guessed it – the cover art! I have often admitted to not necessarily judging books by their covers but being drawn to books by their covers. I mean, that’s what cover art is supposed to do, right? The cover of this new novel is books – stacks of books upon stacks of books. We see the pages but never the covers or spines. I liked that. It made the cover intriguing. Between the cover art and the title, it was clear that books and writing play a big role in this story, and that is always a plus for me. There is also a grey feather loosely placed among the books, which I found out is attributed to a certain feathered character who ended up becoming a favorite of mine.

While the cover art drew my eye, the summary really made me want to read this book. It’s about a woman named Robin whose past catches up to her after she’s spent years running from it – from a disgraced, tainted family name. The story opens on the day of Robin’s father’s scheduled execution. Yes, execution. Robin was just fourteen when her father was accused of murder and her parents ended up behind bars. Years later, she runs a used bookstore (yay for second-hand books!). On execution day, a vintage book shows up sent by someone from her past. She begins receiving regular packages of old books. She knows right away who they’re from – Peter, the boy who changed everything for her, who ruined everything for her. But why is he contacting her after all these years?

Robin’s story is told through two alternating timelines – “then” and “now.” The book opens during the “now” time period with Robin coping with her father’s pending execution. Soon we’re back in the “then” time period with Robin’s experiences of the summer everything changed for her family: the summer her parents went to prison, the summer she had to leave her big house in Massachusetts behind, the summer she moved into a trailer in Michigan with her grandma and her grandma’s grey parrot, the Professor. And most significantly, the summer she met Peter Flynt and his books.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and exciting with tension, drama, romance, and surprise twists. I got really caught up in both timelines. The alternating timelines made me feel like I was switching between a YA novel and an adult fiction novel, which is a testament to Ms. Bartels’s excellent writing skills. She really captured both the youthful voice of teenage Robin and the tired, somewhat defeated voice of adult Robin.

I also loved that the Christian message in the book is subtle. Too often with Christian fiction, the message is too overt and the characters have a sudden revelation and life-changing spiritual experience or encounter and suddenly find everything “fixed” so to speak. But that doesn’t feel very realistic. Faith plays a role in The Words Between Us, but it is subtly woven into the story, with a character mentioning she will pray for Robin or through a character who has been devoted to the Church her whole life. Very little of the story is directly associated with faith, church, or Christianity, though the underlying message of faith and hope shines through.

All of the characters, main and supporting, were very well-written. Robin and Peter were incredible characters, but I also loved the supporting train-wreck-of-a-best-friend Sarah and the grumpy yet lovable parrot, The Professor.

After reading this book and knowing everything I know, I want to re-read it and truly experience it from Robin’s point of view: reading the “now” with knowledge of the “then.” I also absolutely love the nod to literature throughout the story: classic novels and writers like The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, and Emily Dickinson to name a few. Books become Robin’s salvation in a way, keeping her sane, giving her someone to relate to, even if it’s just a character written in black and white. I loved that because I, too, can relate to turning to books for comfort during difficult times in my life.

All in all, I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars. I simply loved it. I think fans of contemporary fiction, Christian fiction, and YA would all appreciate this book as well as bibliophiles like myself since books play such an integral role in this story.

I received a review copy from Revell Reads. All opinions are my own.

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