Tuesday, June 24, 2014

YA book review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to The Dead by Ava Dellaira
YA contemporary
Hardcover/eBook, 327 pages
Published April 1, 2014 by 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 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 by Meghan

"Maybe when we tell our stories, however bad they are, we don't belong to them anymore. They become ours. And maybe what growing up really means is knowing that you don't have to just be a character, going whichever way the story says. It's knowing that you could be the author instead."

     Love Letters to the Dead is the emotional journey of high school freshman Laurel as she learns to forgive and accept the recent death of her sister, May. Through letters to deceased music icons and inspirational historic figures, Laurel reveals pieces of the events that took place prior to May's death and the source of her ensuing feelings of angst and abandonment. Laurel's recollections of what happened to her and her sister are almost painful to read and had me wishing I could somehow wrap my arms around this young frightened girl and tell her that it's all okay. As Laurel learns to open up to the people in her life, she begins to accept what happened to her and May and realizes that she must move on and forgive her sister for leaving.

      It is evident that Laurel speaks from the heart when she discusses vulnerabilities that would be nerve-racking to share with any person. This is why she chooses to write to deceased musicians and others who have dealt with some burdening struggle themselves.  Ava Dellaira's writing is raw and almost lyrical at times, and will surely pull on your heart strings. Love Letters is so beautifully resonant that I have filled a few pages in a notebook with quotations that I wish to keep for future reference.

     Something that I particularly admired about Love Letters is how every character is experiencing some kind of internal struggle. Two of Laurel's friends struggle to accept a love that carries a disparaging social stigma, while her other friends struggle to keep their relationship alive amongst an inevitable separation. Laurel's parents cope with feelings of guilt and inadequacy that stem from their separation and the loss of a child. I was even touched by Aunt Amy's efforts to find love and break out of the loneliness that has surrounded her life.

     Ultimately a tale of forgiveness and self-discovery, Love Letters to The Dead is a great read for fans of Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower or anyone looking for a deep, raw story of innocence, grief, and acceptance.

Rating: 4

Cover Comment: Beautifully unique and captivating

Book Source: ARC for review

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