Love Letters to the Dead
By Ava Dellaira
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 in this stunning debut from Ava Dellaira, Love Letters to the Dead.
Stars: 5.0 out of 5.0
Gut Feeling: 1.0
On Christmas Eve, I will be posting a list of my favorite book of all the ones I have read this year. Love Letters to the Dead will be on that list. Over the last few years I have lost several family members, including my parents and grandparents, so Love Letters really hit home with me. The crushing grief that Laurel feels over the death of her sister, and the survivor’s guilt that often comes hand-in-hand with a loved one’s death, is extremely realistic and relatable. It is not so overwhelming, however, that it becomes depressing and hard to read.
Dellaira’s debut novel is very reminiscent of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of my all-time favorite novels. The two novels explore many of the same themes and are both written in letter format. But make no mistake: minor similarities aside, Love Letters certainly has its own style, heart, and soul. It is a poignant coming-of-age novel that, I imagine, could resonate with readers of all ages and walks of life.
I will admit that I was slightly frustrated with Laurel at the beginning. But I reminded myself that, for a character that is so young and that has suffered the traumatic things that she has, she is quite realistic. She is so ill-prepared to handle the situations than have been thrown at her. I really enjoyed reading her dynamic arc throughout the novel as she figured out who she was and her place in the world following her sister’s death. Laurel’s new friends were equally enjoyable to read and I found it just as easy to get invested in the outcome of their own story arcs, especially that of Hannah and Natalie. The only character I had a really hard time relating to, of the “main” cast of characters we are exposed to, is Laurel’s mother. I still have not forgiven her for leaving Laurel following May’s death, even though I understand, to some degree, why she did it.
I think my favorite aspect of the novel as a whole is the letter format. While I normally prefer the “in the character’s head” format of first- or third-person narrative, the fact that Laurel wrote letters to people who have long passed was extremely poignant and engaging. I particularly loved her letters to Kurt Cobain, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and River Phoenix. Her letters are honest and unassuming, and I found them to be the perfect medium for her self-understanding and revelations. As an added bonus, they were also informative and interesting, revealing facts about actual people that I am ashamed that I didn’t know.
The book, the letters, and the events of Lover Letters were well-organized and fit together perfectly. The revelation of information was neither rushed nor drawn-out. There was a perfect mix of all aspects of Laurel’s new life after May: her broken family, her new relationships (both romantic and platonic), and her self-actualization. All of these are, understandably, tinged with the loss of her sister and the peace she has to make with May and herself regarding May.
Love Letters to the Dead is certainly one of my favorite novels that I have read this year. It is a realistic portrayal of the aftermath of a loved one’s death and I feel that it would be an especially good read for someone who has recently suffered such a loss. Moreover, for those who have lost loved ones, I feel that Love Letters inspires an exponentially helpful coping device in the letter-writing assignment itself.
Author Ava Dellaira is not only friends with Perks of Being a Wallflower author Stephen Chbosky but worked with him on the film adaptation of his popular teen anthem.
Love Letters to the Dead has been lauded by both Chbosky and Perks star Emma Watson.
Love Letters to the Dead has been optioned for a movie, but is in the very early stages of development. Catherine Hardwicke, who is known for directing Lords of Dogtown and the film adaptation of Twilight, is currently set to direct.