Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Review by Lauren
Source: personal copy; all opinions are my own
Official Summary: 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 the dead. People like Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, 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 importantly, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn someone when you haven’t forgiven them? And how do you find your true identity when so much of who you were died with the person you loved? It’s not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself can she finally 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 truly begin to discover her own path.
Review: I had a feeling that I would love this book. For one thing, I love books written in the form of letters. For another, some of my favorite books are contemporary novels that focus on tough issues (such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, whose author wrote a blurb for this book). In the end, I was pretty much right. I did really love this book, even if aspects were a bit easy to guess as the novel went on. That may have been intentional though; it's almost as if the letters Laurel writes to the dead are slowly revealing who she was even before she's ready to admit it.
I think the letters were done well. They switch between a variety of people from Kurt Cobain to Amy Winehouse, but every particular letter usually has something that relates to the person she is writing about. Laurel probably addresses Kurt the most because he was a favorite of May's before she died. His music is a first connection between the sisters when May seems to have grown up too much for Laurel.
Love Letters to the Dead is heartbreaking in various respects. Laurel has been through a lot and you do wish for her to find her own personal happiness, instead of trying to mimic May, who had plenty of her own troubles slightly hidden from her sister.
I thought the secondary characters were great too. You have Tristan and Kristen who are high school sweethearts but know that once they graduate, a lot is going to change. Then you have Laurel's best friends Hannah and Natalie who are in love with each other but unable to truly be together. I thought it was great that the book focused on other aspects of Laurel's world, such as her friends and family, because it made it more true to life. Laurel might be stuck in the past, in a world where May was alive and flying, but that doesn't mean that life truly stops. People move around you, stuck in their own battles.
I would definitely read another book by this author. Her writing is beautiful and I thought the letters were really well done.