I am partial to novels written in journal format. I would say that this is what drew me to Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead. Although it isn’t a journal, it is written from the main character’s point of view expressing her thoughts, feelings, and emotions thereby giving the reader a first-hand look at how she is, or isn’t, dealing with her current situation.
Laurel has just started at a new school. We find out that she has transferred schools this year because she didn’t want to attend the high school that her sister attended. This isn’t an example of sibling rivalry. Instead, we find out that Laurel’s sister May died 6 months ago. Laurel can’t bear to attend a school where she will immediately be labelled as “May’s sister” and pitied by the staff and student body. On top of having a hard time dealing with the loss of her sister, she is trying to cope with her parents’ divorce and her mother’s subsequent move to California because she needed “space”. Lonely, confused, and grieving, Laurel has no one to turn to.
An English assignment turns out to be her saving grace. For the first assignment in her new English class, the teacher asks the students to write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses to write to Kurt Cobain because May loved him and because they both died young. Her letter is filled with observations about high school life and how she has yet to make any friends at her new school. She thinks that she has not completed the assignment correctly and writes that she will try again later. This opens the door to a progression of letters to different dead people ranging from Amelia Earhart to Judy Garland and Amy Winehouse. Each letter addresses another aspect of Laurel’s feelings about her life in a way that she feels each individual can relate to her.
We understand that Laurel is having a hard time coping with her loss because she feels her sister’s death was her fault. She continually alludes to this fear in her letters. Bit by bit she releases details to her captive audience about what led to May’s demise. Through her letters, we watch Laurel fall in love, come to grips with who she is as a person, and realize that while her sister may have been a magical and perfect person in her eyes, she was just a sad and flawed girl.
Reading Laurel’s letters, I could feel her anguish and pain. The letters were the only place that Laurel felt that she could be herself and this raw emotion was evident throughout the book. I found myself not being able to put this book down because I needed to find closure, just like Laurel did.
Although not everyone has lost someone close to them, this book is relevant on many other levels. Everyone knows what it’s liked to feel loneliness and despair. Everyone has had a time in their life where they have had no one to turn to that they could express their fears to. Everyone has felt at fault for something that may, or may not, be their doing. This book of letters shows how letting go and facing your fears can be liberating.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ava Dellaira’s debut novel and look forward to more of her books. If you enjoyed this book, you may want to try one of these titles: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher; Looking for Alaska by John Green; and By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Ann Peters.
Recommended by Brandy Walton