Expected Publication: April 1st, 2014
Love Letters To The Dead
By: Ava Dellaira
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
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 splintered family. And finally about the abuse she suffered when 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.
This book was a bit of an odd duck for me as a reader. I loved the premise: letters to famous dead people, to help work through her personal pain? It was an interesting concept and I loved seeing who Laurel would choose to write to next! Probably my largest issue with the book was the style of the narrative. A lot of books can do well as epistolary style novels. I have a series by Jaclyn Moriarty that I truly love and find almost perfect. This one did something that is against one of my cardinal rules though: it did a lot of telling, in place of showing. I found myself disconnected from the book, even though we spend most of the narrative inside Laurel's head, because it has a dreamy and odd quality to it. The majority of my time was spent reading about Laurel's interactions with people and I didn't get to see a lot of them. There was enough dialogue and interaction to keep me reading, but it was still kind of scarce.
We spend this book getting to know Laurel, whose sister May has just died recently. She is now being shuffled between her Aunt Amy and her Dad, because her Mom has gone to California and left her behind. So Laurel spends her Mom's weeks of custody with her Aunt, who is extremely religious and really has no clue how to handle a teenager. Starting her first year of high school, Laurel decides to go to another school, so she won't just be the girl whose sister died. She makes a couple new friends, Hannah and Natalie, who are just as confused as she is. They are falling in love with each other, but hiding it and Hannah is going from boy to boy in an effort to be "normal." Also, there is the mysterious older boy Sky who seems to be interested in Laurel but has serious issues of his own. There is a secret Laurel is keeping and it's eating her up inside. Can she learn to let the past go and share her problems with someone who can help her move past them? Or will she go on a downward spiral like May, unable to get back up again?
I did enjoy the letters in and of themselves, but I agree with another read about some things that bothered them in regards to the letters. The fact that they were all written to different people did take away from how personal the letters felt to me. To know all that stuff about all those people and choose to write letters to all of them just felt fake. Plus the comparisons drawn between them and Laurel didn't ring true for me either. They turn into Laurel questioning the celebrity's choices for the majority of the letter, rather than examining her own life all that closely. It was a little disruptive to the flow of the novel. Overall, I can't say I really enjoyed it necessarily, but I did appreciate the things it accomplished in terms of character development. It was really all about Laurel learning to become her own person and step out of May's shadow - also to forgive May, their parents and herself for the issues of the past. I just don't think it was really the book for me, as it read a little too young, naieve and disconnected.
VERDICT: 3/5 Stars
*I received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book's expected publication date is April 1st, 2014.*