Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Page Count: 323
Genre: Day-Ruining Contemporary YA
Goodreads & Amazon

It starts with a letter to Kurt Cobain. Laurel is assigned to write a letter to a dead person in her first day of english class, in a high school where no one knows her sister May or the tragic way that she died. Kurt Cobain was May's favorite. Instead of turning the letter in, Laurel keeps writing to other celebrities who died too young and tragically, much like her sister--River Phoenix, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, etc. Each letter cracks Laurel open wider and wider. She writes about her new friends, her broken family, and her magical sister May and the night that took her away.
**I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher in exchange for review. This in no way swayed or influenced my opinion on the book. Promise! Quotes in this post may also be reflected differently in the final copy of the book**

Dear Kurt Cobain,
Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English class today, to write a letter to a dead person. As if the letter could reach you in heaven, or at the post office for ghosts. She probably meant for us to write to someone like a former president or something, but I need someone to talk to. I couldn't talk to a president. I can talk to you.
I wish you could tell me where you are now and why you left. You were my sister May's favorite musician. Since she's been gone, it's hard to be myself, because I don't know exactly who I am. But now that I've started high school, I need to figure it out really fast. Because I can tell that otherwise, I could drown here.
 There are certain movies I love that I recommend to people with a warning, "I love this movie, but watch out: it's a night ruiner!" That's usually what I say when I recommend Requiem for a Dream or Kids or American Beauty. It doesn't happen that often for me with books, though. But when I got an email from Goodreads containing a letter from Stephen Chbosky praising this book...I had an idea of what I was in for. After all, Stephen Chbosky wrote one of my most favorite books ever, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, and that book can really turn a person inside of themselves. Love Letters to the Dead is Ava Dellaira's debut novel and I can definitely see why Chbosky is blurbed and singing his praises: there are definitely similarities! This book is told completely in epistolary form, with our main character Laurel writing to celebrities who have died too young, and often too tragically. Each letter usually starts with a fact about the celebrity and pieces of their lives before they died. This seemed a little redundant since she is telling these dead celebrities pieces about their lives they would've already known, but it helped bring them to life. The factoids or anecdotes she shares with the celebrities made them characters, too, and each story ties them back to Laurel's own life and her sister May. This was also helpful for the lesser known poets and writers that she writes to.
Dear Amelia Earhart,
I remember when I first learned about you in social studies in middle school, I was almost jealous. I know that's the wrong way to feel about someone who died tragically, but it wasn't so much the dying I was jealous of. It was the flying, and the disappearing. The way you saw the earth from the air. You weren't scared of getting lost. You just took off. 
Oh, Laurel. I don't think a character has affected me so much since I read Charlie's story in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. With it being her first year of high school, she is trying to find her place in the big ocean of it all, and fitting her way in with a new group of friends. I actually had a hard time believing that she was in ninth grade, though, since she was so perceptive and full of beautiful observations. At one point, she refers to her boyfriend as being full of moths, and she's the light that they're pressing to be towards. She writes with a lot of poetry in her words, enough that made me jealous of my own journal entries, but I just didn't know if a 14 year old would be able to make those kinds of beautiful observations. Either way, there was so much beauty that she brought into her world and letters. And even though she sounds older when she writes, a lot of her reactions were very age appropriate. I really felt for her. She painfully describes how life is now without her sister, and she writes with a delicate naiveté about fitting in with her new, older friends. And she slowly, slowly reveals new details about what happened on the night that May dies.
"Okay," he said, and then he paused. "I'm proud of you, Laurel. It's not easy, what you've been through, and you're out there living your life." He sounded like he meant it, and it was more than he'd said about anything in a long time. My stomach sank with guilt. I wondered what he would think if he knew what we were really doing.
With epistolary fiction, it can sometimes be hard to break away from the writer of the letters/diary, and get into the lives of the people they surround themselves with. This was not the case. I fell in love with everyone in Laurel's life, and she gave each of her friends huge breaths of life. She made us fall in love with May. She was the magical big sister. She was beautiful, and looked great in her clothes, and helped Laurel believed that they were fairies. Her room is full of heart-shaped sunglasses and geodes and Nirvana posters. By Laurel showing us what she missed about her sister, and bringing those moments to the page, we missed May, too. And as Laurel grows through her letters, she starts to see little cracks that she may not have noticed or recognized before.
Then I just go around and around. And I still don't know how to make sense of the world. But maybe it's okay that it's bigger than what we can hold on to. Because I think that by beauty, you don't just mean something that's pretty. You mean something that makes us human.
There is also Laurel's friends that we come to fall in love with, too. Each one is such a character, and surprisingly none of them tends to fall off the page. In books I've read before, a group of friends suddenly becomes diminished and we only hear from certain people once ever 50 pages. Not the case here, either. Each friend checks in every other page, adding and enriching to Laurel's life and recovery. There is romance within her group of friends, adding to her conflicting emotions of healing from the loss of her sister, and trying to hold onto secrets and seeing her friends in pain. I LOVED THEM SO MUCH. Laurel's family was also brought to life, from her mother who ran away to deal with her emotions in California, her silently grieving father, and her Jesus-freak aunt. Each person has their own demons, and Laurel brings them to us. You know, to kill our emotions even further.
Tristan looked at me, and he said something I'll always remember. "Let me tell you something, Buttercup," he said. "There are two most important things in the world--being in danger, and being saved."
Sigh, the more time I spend thinking about Love Letters to the Dead, the more I love it. It hit me square in the feels, and there were several times that I was wiping away tears. I think I might have also had the most contemplative shower of my life on the day that I was about to finish Laurel's story. I cried and cried and cried. There was so much beauty and pain and tragedy. So much teen angst, and it's been awhile since I read a really good book full of traditional teen angst. This is now a book that I will give a night-ruining warning, but will still recommend it whole-heartedly. I'm also excited to see what else Dellaira has up her sleeve. Hopefully she doesn't disappear from the novel-writing scene like Chbosky did...

 BIG thank you to the publisher for letting me experience this book early! 

Have you read this one yet? Are you interested? Who is a dead person you would write a letter to?


  1. Great review - I can't wait to read this! The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my favorite books, and I'm always looking for new stories that evoke the same feeling.

  2. I rad the first half of the book and then I lost it can you tell me how may dies?