Review: Love Letters to the Dead

18140047Title: Love Letters to the Dead

Author: Ava Dellaira

Rating: ★★★

Provided Synopsis: 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 splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while 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.

Review: In the spring of eight grade, Laurel’s older sister, May, dies under tragic circumstances, and an already fractured family is torn further apart with the sudden death as Laurel’s mother moves to California to cope with her grief. Rather than begin high school surrounded by people she has known all of her life and who also knew May, Laurel decides to attend another school in order to make a fresh start. On the first day of her English class she is given the assignment to write a letter to a dead person. With the task hitting so close to home, Laurel never turns in her letter to her teacher; instead she continues to write letters to dead people to tell the story of her life, her memories of her sister, her transition to a new school, her first love, and her all-consuming grief and guilt.

I don’t remember Laurel ever confirming it, but I believe she writes to people such as Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, etc because they all died at young ages like her sister. Some readers may think this to be too depressing, but I understood it and even liked it. I learned so much about the lives of these figures as Laurel researched them and wrote to them. I thought the lessons she pulled from the lives of these people were important.

For all of her life Laurel looked up to her sister May, and that love and idolization of her is what makes it so hard for Laurel to move on and face what happened in the past. May obviously had issues to work through, yet her sister could never see that for a very long time and it was frustrating to watch her wade through life when all I wanted to do was point at what was the obvious. Still, this was a beautifully written book with some great characters that learn to grow. Laurel’s voice was instantly in my head, and while I have never gone through what she has I could easily empathize with most of what she was feeling. I’d recommend this.

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