Title: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: April 2014
Hardback: 323 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
I would like to start by saying that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my absolute favorite books, and Love Letters to the Dead has been highly recommended by the author of Perks, Stephen Chbosky, on Twitter, Goodreads, blurbs on the cover, and several other outlets. This was how I originally heard about Love Letters to the Dead, and it gave me pretty high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed.
Let’s start with a brief synopsis:
Love Letters to the Dead begins with “Dear Kurt Cobain.” Laurel’s first assignment in her freshman English class is to write a letter to a dead person. She chooses Kurt Cobain because her older sister May loved him. But there’s another reason: May died young just like Kurt. Laurel doesn’t just stop at one letter though; she keeps writing letters to other people who have died, like Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse. She writes to them about starting high school, being alone, making new friends and falling in love. Her letters detail what it is like to live with her broken family after the death of her sister. And eventually she writes about what happened to her before May died and why she cannot accept May’s death. She’s stuck, and through her letters she discovers who she is, who May was, and where she’s going in life.
What I thought:
Oh, man. This book is so powerful. There were several times that I just had to put the book down and breathe. Dellaira’s prose is beautiful, lyrical almost in the way she writes about Laurel and what’s she’s dealing with. The novel begins several months after the death of Laurel’s sister May, and Laurel has just started high school. She switches between a week at her father’s, where it is too quiet and sad, and her Aunt Amy’s, where she feels suffocated. Her mother left her to move to California after May died. Laurel is lost; she doesn’t know who she is or who she wants to be. The letters follow her as she begins to make friends at school: Natalie and Hannah, two girls who are trying to hide their true selves from the world, Tristan and Kristen, a free spirited couple dealing with what comes next after graduation, and Sky, the boy who will change, support, and love Laurel for who she is, if she could ever figure that out.
Not only does Laurel detail her own life, but she also writes about the lives that these deceased celebrities lead. She pays tribute to them in a way, because she doesn’t relate to them for their fame but rather for who they were as people and for the art they gave us. She talks about how Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse were able to use their voices to express how they truly felt and how we are able to relate to it because of that. Laurel tells us about what these people went through, why they died, or at least why she thinks they did, and how they suffered. She relates most of it back to herself in these letters. I really enjoyed these parts because I was able to learn so much more about these incredible people, and I can now relate to them on a completely different level, not just through their music, movies, or feats.
And finally she tells us what she went through, the abuse she suffered at the hands of someone that May trusted to take care of her. I think that the reader will probably be able to tell long before it is actually detailed that something like this happened to either her or May, but it was still a shock when you read it and could see how Laurel felt, the shame, the guilt, the uncertainty and confusion. And how she was unable to tell May because she was both angry at May and afraid. I think, however, that this is one of the only things I didn’t like about this book: Laurel repeats several times in her letters that she has a secret that she cannot tell anyone. While I understand that she felt that way, once I got that she had a secret to tell, every time she said it, I was just like Yeah, I know! But I think I can deal with the few repetitions for the beauty of the rest of the book.
After May’s death, Laurel deals with the guilt she feels, as if she was the one who killed her. Through Dellaira’s writing, we feel what Laurel feels, we deal with the guilt, too. It’s intense, horrific, and heartbreaking. This is one of Dellaira’s bestselling points: her portrayal of Laurel’s emotions. Sometimes it was like Dellaira just took as many emotions as she could and smashed them all together on a single page. But you know what? That’s what life is like, especially for someone dealing with the grief that Laurel is. Sometimes Laurel seems unpredictable in her emotions; one minute she is happy and falling in love and the next, she is grumpy, quiet, crying. I don’t think she could have more accurately captured the life of an adolescent. I also think she captured the emotions and unpredictability of someone dealing with depression. I’ve seen some reviewers say that the book seems as if it was written by someone who is analyzing Laurel’s emotions and not actually someone this young. I think these people have forgotten what it was like to be this age.
More than once I had to reread a few sentences or one of the letters because I just couldn’t believe how true it was or how much I could relate to it or just how beautifully written it was. Dellaira has written a book that pulls on your heartstrings and that rings completely true and sincere. I am so happy and sad to have read this book, and I hope that makes sense.
The bottom line:
Read it. I loved it. When I was just about to read the last letter, I put it down and sighed, pretty hard, I guess, and my mom said, “What’s wrong?” I just said, “I don’t want to finish it.” It was true; I didn’t. Not because it wasn’t good, but because then it would be over.
If you’re a fan of Perks, I think you’ll be a fan of Love Letters to the Dead.
One of my favorite quotes:
“The house felt haunted, like only I understood the way all of our shadows, the ones we’d left, had seeped into the wood and stained it.” – Page 90
Rating: 9 – Practically Perfect
You can read and download the first four letters HERE
Learn more about Dellaira and her book on her website
Reading Next: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige