Love Letters to the Deadby Ava Dellaira (Twitter)
Genres: Death & Dying, Emotions & Feelings, Family, Siblings, Social Issues, Young Adult
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I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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 did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to 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 begin to discover her own path.
Losing your sibling in a tragic accident isn’t easy, and Laurel’s broken family is even more devastated when her older sister May dies unexpectedly. Their parents are already divorced, but now their grief stricken mother needs to get away and heads to a ranch in California, leaving Laurel to split her time between her home with her father and her spinster aunt’s apartment. But living with her aunt for two weeks a month has a big advantage: Laurel can begin her freshman year at a different high school than the one her sister May had attended. She’s hoping to start a new school year anonymously, not as the girl who was there when her popular, lively sister died.
Laurel is lost without her sister, and she doesn’t know who she is on her own. Her English teacher gives the class an assignment to write a letter to a person who is dead. Laurel’s first letter is to Kurt Cobain, but she doesn’t turn the assignment in to the teacher who’d just transferred from the high school across town, and subsequently knew May and all about the accident. But Laurel finds solace in writing to dead celebrities, so she continues to pour her heart and soul out to the only people who she thinks would know what she’s going through as she tries to cope with her grief and the uncertainty of finding her way through growing up.
This story is heartbreaking, at times hopeless, and very angsty as Laurel tries to navigate her first year of high school–through her first romantic relationship and as she makes friends at her new school. At first she revels in no one knowing that she had a sister, but it’s slowly revealed that many more people were touched by May’s life than Laurel knew, so it’s hard for Laurel to ever be completely free of the ghost of her sister. She tries to find herself in becoming more like her sister was, but the real Laurel might just be pushed further and further away.
Laurel is instantly drawn to mysterious leather jacket wearing Sky. His home life isn’t picture perfect, and he’s drawn to Laurel as well. But it isn’t easy to be in a relationship with a girl that is so grief stricken and obsessed with her dead sister, and it’s a rocky coupling from the start. The other secondary characters are intriguing and well drawn as well, from her new best girl friends Hannah and Natalie to hippiesque Seniors Tristan and Kristen who take the younger girls under their wing.
I give Love Letters to the Dead a 4.5 out of 5. With angsty, fleshed out characters, this novel really packed an emotional punch. You really feel what Laurel’s going through, from the guilt of being left behind, to the extreme grief, to the anger, the sadness, the self-destruction. The format of letters to dead celebrities for the text took a few chapters to get used to, but it flowed nicely after that. The flashbacks to Laurel’s times with May and her parents gave a better look at what life was like through her young eyes, and it contrasted nicely with how Laurel comes to understand how things actually were through her older and more enlightened young adult eyes. This one is a tear jerker in quite a few places since it explores loss, grief, broken family dynamics, and how everything can just go wrong. This is definitely one of the best books that I’ve read in 2014 so far.