There are quite a few things to like about Chloe Coles’ debut novel Bookshop Girl, and there are a few things that detract from it too, but the biggest takeaway for any reader is that this novel is a love letter to books, bookshops and the joy of reading. Having been written for perhaps the younger end of the YA scale, Bookshop Girl can feel a little over-the-top and inaccessible to older readers and it therefore struggles to lend itself the same kind of universal appeal that many YA books offer readers of all ages. Text-speak and teen talk aside, however, this novel offers a confident and funny story with an engaging heroine and a heartfelt message behind it.
Paige Turner, the bookshop girl of the title, is a sixteen-year-old bookseller who’s working to save up money for university to give herself a chance to escape the run-down town of Greysworth. Along with her best friend Holly, Paige works at the local bookshop, only to be left devastated when she’s told that the shop is about to become another casualty of the high street and is being closed to make way for new developments. With just four weeks before Bennett’s Bookshop is closed for good, Paige decides to fight for the shop, for her job and for the people of Greysworth to continue to have access to a local place to find books, but will it be enough?
Above all else, Paige’s passion and commitment to her cause is inspiring, and it’s one that will no doubt hit a chord with book lovers everywhere, particularly given the real-world resonance of shop closures and library cuts, which is what happens in Bookshop Girl too. Through the launch of petitions, blogs and video support, Paige and her cast of supporting characters all open up about the importance of books and what they can mean to an individual – and chances are, if you’re reading this book in the first place, it’s a message that you will support wholeheartedly.
“Books are an escape route. A refuge. They can be a connection to a stranger, someone you’ve never met, who writes something that you hadn’t considered anyone in the world to have felt but you.”
Unfortunately, the telling of the novel doesn’t always match up to the story itself, with what feels like an attempt to embrace the true-to-life way that teenagers speak in the narrative – featuring plenty of OMGs, defos, and obvs – proving a little too full-on for the average reader. The characters, too, just feature as supporting players, serving as almost caricatures of personality without any full realisation as individuals, from the grumpy boss and the angry feminist colleague, right through to the “fit”, “arty”, rule-breaking tearaway Blaine Henderson, whose “anarchy” feels both unnecessary and under-developed.
Still, for a younger reader, Bookshop Girl could be something special – a book that relates to their own innate love of books and storytelling, that encourages people to have opinions, to share them and to try and use their voices for a good cause, and one that also features one of the most supportive, albeit one-sided, female friendships I’ve ever read between school-aged teens.
This was a short book and a quick read that’s made quicker by the fact it doesn’t really delve into anything too deep (even the one fight that Paige and Holly have comes out of nowhere and is resolved without any real consequence a page later), making for a light-hearted novel, yes, but also one that’s unlikely to leave a lasting impact.
Bookshop Girl was published by Hot Key Books on 14 June 2018