Two Reviews: Love Letters to the Dead

By Ava Dellaira
Published on April 1, 2014
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Source: Publisher
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.
From Ericka...

Watch the video review below, or you can read what I have to say if you do not want to see my face!  :)

I really liked this book.  Thumbs up Ms. Dellaira!  After a string of not-so-awesome books, I am pleased to say that I enjoyed Love Letters to the Dead.  It even made me cry!  <sniff>

The story revolves around Laurel, a 9th grader who really has no idea who she is.  All she does know is that her sister is dead and she is trying to start over at a new school where no one knows about May.  The book is comprised of letters to dead people, and through the various correspondences, Laurel chronicles her life.  In the process, she finds herself, as does the reader.

What I loved so much about this book is that it feels utterly authentic.  You can feel Laurel's naivete and for me, being an adult, it draws you back to a time in your own past when you felt incredibly small and alone.  If you really stop and remember, everything in 9th grade is a Big Deal.  But then to have something that is legitimately Big - the death of a family member - it throws everything off.  Just imagine yourself in that situation, where petty things seem big, but you know they shouldn't seem big because you are trying to deal with a real and true trauma, yet you cannot stop feeling that those other small things are huge.  It is probably very disorienting.  Maybe I am doing a poor job of explaining it, and you should just read the book to see what I mean.

There were times, I admit, where I was like, "yeah, get on with it!", but overall, I really got sucked into Laurel's life.  And you feel like it is a complete life.  You get to know her soul.   Not a lot of books do that these days.  Now I have turned into a bit of a sap since having a child, because I never ever want anything bad to happen to him, and quite a few bad things happen to Laurel through the course of the book.  However, the ending (which is not bad), really made me cry.  I just ached for this girl!

I think it would be an excellent book for a high school student to read.  There is some sex, drugs, and rock and roll in it, so be forewarned.  With some discussion though, I feel like kids could learn from this, and they would really identify with Laurel.

Two thumbs up from me, I think this was great!

From Sarah...

I definitely agree with Ericka on this one! I had read some not so great reviews of this one before I started, and I don't always have the best track record with loving contemporary novels, anyway, so I was pleasantly surprised whenever I started to get into the story.

At first, I was afraid this book was going to be a case of "loved the writing, hated the characters". Dellaria has a fantastic, lyrical, honest way of writing from Laurel's POV, but I found myself frustrated early on with all of the characters and their behavior.  As the book goes on, though, they all get more depth and you start to understand their motivations and actions more.  It is a bit of a long payoff to get the backstory for the characters, but I think if you hang in there, it's worth it.

The real star of this book is Dellaria's writing style, however.  Laurel has gone through some incredibly traumatic events, some of which she can barely even admit to herself.  The way that Laurel's depression comes across on the page feels so very real.  I'm in awe of how well this was shown, through her thoughts and actions, that it really made the book for me.  It's hard sometimes, as a detached reader (especially one who is years removed from being a high school freshman), to always sympathize with Laurel and her decisions, but it makes so much more sense when you consider all that she and her family have been through, and the lack of support/structure she's getting from the adults in her life.  My heart really went out to her, the more we saw what her life was like, and I'm glad to say that by the end, things are getting better (even if the last chapter or so made me almost cry on the train).

As Ericka mentioned, there are some adult themes, including some sublplots regarding sexual assault, so proceed with some caution.  I think everything is very well handled in the book and that mature readers will be fine with it.

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