Author: Ava Dellaira
Published: April, 2014 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR))
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Rating: Three stars
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.
First Line: Dear Kurt Cobain, Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English today, to write a letter to a dead person.
Cover Thoughts: The cover is really gorgeous this cover is. It instantly caught my eye the first time I saw it. The colors of the sky and the font drew me to it immediately. The way the colors blend into each other is just stunning. The font, while bigger than usual, manifests how big the sky is. This is one of my favorite covers of all time.
I really wanted to love Love Letters To The Dead by Ava Dellaira. I was so sure I would because I loved the premise and the title. The cover was amazing, the title, unique, the premise, interesting, the execution though, left me wanting a bit more. I loved the coming-of-age premise of Laurel dealing with her sister, May’s death and writing letters to celebrities. In addition to suffering from losing May, Laurel has two distant parents who are unaware of how she feels. Her mother went to California after May died and her father doesn’t know how Laurel fells. Laurel alternates between staying at her Jesus-loving aunt Amy’s house and her home.
The main character, Laurel didn’t hold my interest very well. There were several secondary characters that I enjoyed and would have liked to see more of. I found Laurel to be a bit too naive in a few instances and didn’t approve of her behavior with friends. Initially I was discouraged with reading because of the way Laurel’s friends, Natalie and Hannah, act in the beginning, flashing people, stealing liquor, and doing drugs. There is another scene where she does something really dangerous in front of her love interest, Sky. Her friends become a bright spot in this book though.
Laurel’s personality didn’t really seem to shine. The only parts we see of her is her idolizing May, trying to be liked and being sad about what has happened to May. We never truly see Laurel grieveing which is disappointing. In a way the letters are her grieving, but it would have been nice to see Laurel talk about May and her death other than the idolization. The thing I don’t like about Laurel is that she was so desperate to be liked that she wouldn’t be herself or would do things just to be liked.
The first example involves lunch where Laurel “realizes” that unless you buy pizza and Nutter Butters, you’re not supposed to eat. I thought that was a ridiculous idea, but fitting for a fifteen year old yearning to be liked. While at, she is introduced to Kristen and Tristan, two seniors soon to graduate. Laurel sees them as cool and educated about music and she wants to be friends with them. I would have liked to know more about their lives. Laurel later writes after meeting them:
“Dear Janis Joplin,When I got home today, I looked up about Slash, and I also looked up about your life, so that I can start my education, and so that I can be friends with Tristan and Kristen.”
My favorite character and the one I found most interesting is May. I loved May who readers only see in glimpses from Laurel’s adoring eyes. Her mysteriousness reminded me of Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks. For me, May was definitely the highlight and stole the show from Laurel. I found May to be fascinating and wanted to know more about her own high school experience.
If there is one thing Dellaira does right, it is plotting her story. Throughout Love Letters To The Dead, there are several plots and subplots. The overarching one is Laurel’s letters to various dead celebrities. As a writer, I enjoy reading about anyone who writes letters or expresses themselves in other written ways. I like how Laurel would connect these letters to her own experiences or her friends and family’s experiences. She talks about the celebrities own lives in the letters she writes which I enjoyed because I found out more about them. Some of the people Laurel wrote to were Amelia Earhart, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin and John Keats. In the beginning Laurel began idolizing them and saw them as without fault and simply victims of life’s unfairness. As she goes through high school and life, she realizes she shouldn’t hold them on a pedestal.
There were some letters she wrote I felt were too good to be true involving dialogue. I understand for the story’s sake that Dellaira needed to include the dialogue, but some of the passages Laurel remembered were amazing. Laurel’s deep thinking didn’t seem to come across as natural as it could have. Some of the letters as I previously said, were dialogued perfectly with Laurel not even needing to comment on them. However, because of this there are a lot of beautiful passages throughout the book that I enjoyed. One of these passages is:
“Sometimes when we say things, we hear silence. Or only echoes. Like screaming from inside. And that’s really lonely. But that only happens when we weren’t really listening. It means we weren’t ready to listen yet. Because every time we speak, there is a voice. There is the world that answers back.”
Another subplot in the story is the romance one involving Laurel and Sky which I felt could have occurred more slowly. Laurel ends up writing this about Sky.
“And although he has the license to stand with the cool kids, he still doesn’t fully belong anywhere and hasn’t relinquished his title of Mr. Mystery. Hence the throng of girls who are always leaning in and touching his arm.”
One of the best things about this book is how Dellaira delves into everyone’s home lives. Laurel has her own family issues going on as do Natalie and Hannah. As for Laurel’s fellow freshmen friends, Natalie and Hannah, I enjoyed their subplot of discovering their love for each other. Sky also has his own home issues going on with his mother. It was nice to see parts of their home lives and see how that affects them because that seems to be uncommon.
It took me a while to get into the book, it was slow paced. I didn’t find it very interesting until halfway through. Once I was halfway through, I was more excited to read it. The book takes a darker turn then and it moves at a faster pace. There is a big reveal involving Laurel and May about halfway through the novel which readers will be shocked by. I was pleased by the somewhat predictable ending which I feel saved the novel. There are parts in this book that were emotional, especially in the latter half. I did enjoy all of the secondary characters. I liked the friendship Laurel, Natalie and Hannah formed with each other. At the end of the story, Laurel isn’t magically healed from her pain and her life doesn’t go back as it once was, but she grows through the experience I believe.
Overall I feel readers of Perks will like this book well enough since it is relatable and deals with darker subjects. This wasn’t the best book, but it wasn’t worst. It receives three stars for me. I have plenty of hope for and look forward to Dellaira’s future novels.