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.
Going in to Love Letters to the Dead, I was unsure what to think. I had seen a few reviews praising the book, and several others saying that it had been a bit of a disappointment. So I did my best to keep an open mind as I started reading, in the hopes that I’d wind up in the former camp rather than the latter. Thankfully, I did. There was something about this book that just worked for me, although I am well aware of why it perhaps didn’t work for others.
I want to first praise the author’s way with words, because some of the prose used in this book was just hauntingly beautiful. Laurel, our main character, has lost her sister, May, and as such is having a very hard time finding herself and figuring things out. Her story is told solely through letters to famous dead people that range from musicians, actors and poets, to Amelia Earhart. There were so many heartbreaking lines in these letters, particularly as Laurel starts letting her anger out, and several moments while I was reading that caused me to tear up a bit. I also liked the introduction of the side characters, from Laurel’s new group of friends to the guy she has a crush on.
However, my biggest complaint about this book has to do with these letters as well: I really wish the story hadn’t been told completely via letters. See, the author had entire sections of these letters that were full of dialogue, which seemed highly unrealistic to me. No one remembers conversations word for word, you know? And yet, Laurel’s letters recounted entire days at school, and conversations she had with people. I think it would have worked just as well – and possibly better for some folks – if the book had moments where you were in “real time” (for lack of a better term) and then also had the letters where Laurel could get more into her feelings and emotions. It just would have seemed more realistic to me, personally, and probably would have allowed me to rate this even higher. But obviously, I’m not the author, and she clearly had a plan of action for the book, and really for the most part it worked. I just wasn’t completely sold on the format used to tell the story.
All in all, I found Love Letters to the Dead to be a beautiful, haunting tale of a girl’s coming of age and the steps she took to find her place in her new sister-less world. I loved the people she surrounded herself with, and the journey she went on to figure things out. While the format of the story didn’t completely work for me, I did love seeing her letters, especially as she tied her and May’s life to the situations and things that ultimately took the lives of the famous people she was writing to, and am very glad I gave the book a chance.
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.