For What It's Worth

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira


18140047It 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.

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Source: ARC provided by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in exchange for an honest review

Review:
Love Letters to the Dead was a beautiful, and heartbreakingly honest, exploration of grief, written in a truly unique way.

I lost my mother to cancer when I was in high school. I don’t think people understand how isolating an experience that is. Other kids don’t want you death cooties rubbing off on them so they avoid you, you feel left out of conversations that discuss family dynamics (in my case my mom – but in this book the death of Laurel’s sister, May), and you end up doing this odd little conversational dance so that the topic never comes up. Going home, which should be comforting is now the last place you want to be. Dellaira nailed this feeling. So much so, I had to keep setting the book aside. It's pretty dark and intense and I needed to regroup before heading back in.

I loved how Laurel, through a class project where students write letters to a dead person, is able to explore all the pent up feelings she has over the loss of her sister and the changing dynamics of her family in the aftermath. The letters to the dead were done very well. It is a different approach but I can see how pouring your heart out to strangers who can't judge you or talk back is cathartic. The people she chose made sense in context to the story.

As much as I was captivated by Laurel’s story and Ava Dellaira’s writing, I did have a few issues.
While the letters worked in the beginning, the technique kind of stumbled towards the end. Laurel spoke to the dead person at first but then it shifted in style to informing the deceased about their own life, rather than integrating into Laurel's. Or as if she was trying to inform the reader as to who the dead person was. It became more celebrity bio than emotional cleansing.

Another aspect that didn’t quite work for me was the romance. The circumstances surrounding Sky’s role in Laurel’s life felt like unnecessarily drama filled & a little clich├ęd. Love Letters to the Dead explores many issues including death, drugs, alcohol, sexual assault, domestic violence, LBGT romance & this just muddied the already murky waters. Really, it would have nice to not explore so many issues in this book and give a few of these side characters their own story later. Sky plays an important part in her healing but it also seemed a little forced to make things fit in a way that pushed the story forward. I've also read this particular set up several time before. Not the authors fault - but I wish it was done differently I guess. The romance doesn't overpower the story though so it's not a big thing.

Although there were a few things that didn’t work for me, I was blown away by Dellaira’s writing and the depth she gave ALL her characters.  It's hard to believe that this is a debut author. I mentioned how many different themes the author explores. She did it in a way that felt very organic and natural.

Laurel’s friends were just as interesting as her. High school is awkward and fumbling and this book captures all the highs and lows in a very authentic way.

16 comments:

  1. I can only imagine how difficult this was to read. It's great to know that the letters really worked (for the most part) as a catharsis for Laurel's pain. I also get what your saying about the "celebrity bio". I know that the celebrities aren't exactly relevant to today's teens, but they could probably do the work in finding out who they are, instead of giving info that drags.
    I'm very curious about this Letters. Especially knowing how much you praised the writing.

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    1. It's a kind of depressing read on it's own but yeah it was more difficult because of how personal it was to me.

      I was reading reviews on GR and the reviewers didn't know all the celebrities she wrote to (even Amelia Earhart) so I wonder how this will do with those readers and maybe the bio type entry was necessary.

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  2. Okay, I only read the first half of this review because I've only read about half the book so far, hah. So far I LOVE the writing and the letters (I normally haaaate letters, and I'd normally hate this sort of device with the dead people thing), but they were making me so sad that I had to put the book on hold. It's interesting to see you had some reservations about the romance (I accidentally read that part), so I'll have to come back to read your review again on GR when I'm finally done with this.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. It is a really sad book but the writing is so beautiful that I had to keep going.

      Yes, come back and let me know what you think about the romance. I couldn't' say too much without spoiling. It's not terrible - just cliche and too much in a book with already so much going on.

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  3. This sounds like it really struck a chord with you and I like that the author managed to accurately capture how a teen would feel in this sort of situation. I like the sound of the letters, but it's a shame the romance aspect didn't work for you.

    Fantastic review, I'm definitely going to buy this book :)

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    1. It didn't work, but it's not the focus so it didn't ruin the book for me. And I'm not sure it would even bother other readers who haven't read the same scenario before like I had.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your own personal story and connection to this story. I have a copy of this one but have been unsure on whether or not I wanted to give it a try. And though you had some issues, I think I'd like to check out the beautiful writing and the characters.

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  5. Yeah this book was okay and I agree about the romance part too. This book was sad, and I felt sad afterward I was done reading it. I did enjoy the letters in the beginning. I am sorry to hear that you lost your mom in high school.

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  6. Wow, I have seen this book around but I think this is the first review I have read about it. I actually really want to read it now. I suppose I have been lucky in that I haven't lost an immediate family member yet. But I still think I could connect with this story from the way that you described it. Now I am going to have to pick it up. I am so sorry for your loss.

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  7. I really want to read this. I can see how too many issues might be focused on, but overall, it sounds like a very gritty, realistic book and I do love those.

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  8. Enjoyed your review and how you mentioned both what did and didn't work for you. Beautiful writing can sometimes draw me to a book I'd never pick up otherwise, but it sounds like the author may have overextended and tried to fit in too much. Think I'll pass on this one as it's a little too sad a subject for me right now.

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  9. I still don't know if I want to read this one. I just know I will be balling at one point or anther. I don't know if this one is for me, but I do love the sound of her writing. Glad it wasn't a total disappointment for you.

    So sorry to hear about your mom. ((HUGS))

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  10. Glad you enjoyed for the most part, the letter writing didn't work for me at all so I couldn't finish.

    But I am sorry to hear about your loss. Loss of a parent is hard to understand unless you have been through it and hard at any age, but esp then

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  11. Oh fudge, sounds like a lost opportunity there. I think losing a parent regardless of age doesn't get better. I lost my mom to cancer too and I was a grown ass woman at that time but I still cried for my Mommy. And there does seem to be a lot of issues, maybe if she broke the themes down and came up with a series, this would've been more powerful.

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  12. Hm, sorry you didn't like it as much. Everyone keeps saying good things about it so it's kind of nice to hear another side to it!

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  13. I'm so intrigued by this story. The reviews I've seen have been kind of all over the place but I like the middling ones like yours, that point out what worked and what didn't. What I've liked most are the quotes from the book that I've seen out of context. Quotes always wrangle me in! Thanks for your honest review!

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