Reader, where do we start with all the reasons to love this story?
The Words Between Us is not the first book I’ve read by Erin Bartels, but it is my favorite so far. The story follows a reclusive bookstore owner, Robin Windsor, who hopes she has permanently buried her family’s violent, high-profile past. But when the novels she once shared with a high-school crush begin returning to her, it appears that her true identity is about to be revealed, threatening the new life she has painstakingly built.
What do I love most about The Words Between Us?
The power of words is a theme that plays out in several ways. Robin struggles to write (and read) letters to and from her imprisoned parents. Across Robin’s life, “good” lies are shaped, sometimes far too easily. And then there are all the books. In high school, Robin pays for favorite books from a friend by writing poetry. As an adult, Robin struggles to showcase the books in her store to a world clamoring in every other direction.
On a side note, an artful aspect of this story is the way each chapter switches seamlessly between “Then” and “Now,” letting readers piece together Robin’s complete story only as she decides to share it—a personality trait that is entirely in keeping with the Robin readers are learning to love. Plenty of twists and turns keep the plot moving right up to the end of the story.
I also appreciate that the rampant themes of invisibility and distrust are balanced by refrains of resiliency and connection.
And while death and deterioration are represented by physical structures (the cemetery bordering the trailer Robin lives in with her grandmother, the magnificent family home fallen into disrepair, and the regeneration of the downtown building housing Robin’s bookstore), the intangible joys of life are given brilliant moments.
Bird lovers like myself will have fun getting to know the character called The Professor, an African Grey parrot whose lifetime experience touches on specific points of both pain and beauty for Robin and her family.
And let’s also consider the book’s title. When are words between us, and when are they, say, connecting us? Is there even a difference?
And which book do you suggest we read and talk about next?
Here with you,