Today’s review: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Number of pages: 323
Genre: Young Adult/ Contemporary/ Romance/ Coming of age/ Drama
It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person.
Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven?
It’s not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was—lovely and amazing and deeply flawed—can she truly start to discover her own path.
In a voice that’s as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl’s journey through life’s challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty.
Fifteen-year-old Laurel is starting her freshman year at a new high school. For her, it is a chance at a new start, somewhere no-one knows her. Or her sister. It has been a year since Laurel’s sister, May, died, and Laurel is still struggling to cope with the loss. Her sister had been everything to her; mentor, hero, best friend. May had protected her from their parents’ fights, sneaking Laurel out of her window to make fairy spells in their backyard to make everything bad go away. May had danced and sang until their parents had forgotten about their anger and learned to laugh again. And then May had died and Laurel was left with a hole in her heart and no one to turn to.
For their first assignment, Laurel’s English teacher has the class write a letter to a dead person as a way of introducing themselves and learning to write expressively. Laurel decided to write hers to Kurt Cobain, whom her sister had loved when she was alive. After the first, Laurel begins to write them regularly, and to a wider variety of people. For her, it becomes her way of coping with and moving on from her sister’s death. It is also a way for her to explore her new-found feelings for Sky; the cute boy in the leather jacket. As she progresses further in her relationship with Sky and delves deeper into the darkness of her own past, Laurel is forced to shed her innocence and face the challenges of the adult world and all the heartbreak that comes with it.
I really liked this book and I had been looking forward to reading it. I grew to like Laurel as the protagonist of this novel, although at times I felt she was a bit naive in light of some of the situations that occur. What more than made up for this however, were some of her musings that occurred throughout the book that were positively poetic, for example this from one of Laurel’s letters to Judy Garland; “Judy, I read that you said your first memory was music. Music that fills up a home. And one day, suddenly the music could escape through a window. For the rest of your life, you had to chase it” . There are quite a few like this throughout the book, and I thought they were absolute gems. I loved how Laurel was so observant, so patient, and so understanding. She wasn’t quick to judge, even when she experienced things she had never before seen in her life, and she always tried to see things from other people’s perspectives.
But one of the things that I didn’t like was Sky. I got a very Edward-Bella impression about their relationship most of the time, and frankly, I found him to be a rather dislikable character. For the most part, he was moody, changeable, and sometimes even downright rude. And Laurel went on and on about him. Like, how about you focus on moving on from your sister’s death? Or helping your best friends Hannah and Natalie realise their feelings for one another? I don’t really want to hear about how “his voice sounded disapproving in a way that I liked” (and what does that even mean?). I felt there was too much focus on their relationship that was, frankly, rather unhealthy, and that really took away from Laurel’s journey to self-acceptance and the role of her true friends.
The book did, however, appeal to the lover of 70s-90s artists in me, especially when Laurel would include aspects of each of their lives in her letters, then relate her recounts to them on a smaller scale. Although these connections were occasional (some felt completely unrelated, which made some parts a bit confusing), when they did occur they were quite effective. It was good to read about how these artists were still maintaining relevance in the lives of younger generations, and I liked how their love for the same artists brought Laurel and her friends together.
All-in-all Love Letters to the Dead was a beautiful, terribly sad story of learning to live with loss, growing up, and dealing with the challenges that life throws at us. Laurel was an observant narrator, but I felt that she needed to be more of her own person, rather than always being influenced by those around her. For the most part, Ava Dellaira really tackled the issues in the book well, seeing as they are incredibly complex and sensitive, and she addressed so many at once. I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in Young Adult drama, but if something light-hearted is what you’re after, I’d advise you to look elsewhere because this one was feels-y.