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Review: Love Letters to the Dead (Ava Dellaira)

The Deets: 

Audience: YA
Pages: 323
Publisher:  April 1st 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374346676
Genre: contemporary, mystery, coming of age
Source: eARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Love Letters to the DeadIt 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. 

I have conflicting feelings for this book. Love Letters to the Dead was great while I was reading it, but now that some time has passed it has faded from my mind.This is going to be one of those books that either blows you away, or blows right passed you. 

One thing that did impress me was the amount of research that went into the content of the letters. I am a product of the 90s. I remember River Pheonix and Kurt Cobain. I remember my crushes on them both, and how crushed I felt to learn of their deaths. But because I was young in the 90s, I don't remember much about the mysteries surrounding those events. The author did a great job of digging around to find those details (like Cobain's suicide letter and Pheonix's very troubling childhood). Most of the "characters" Laurel writes to has a troubling past that is explored. 

Along the way, Laurel learns a good bit about herself and her new friends as well. The letters become very therapeutic. If you ever kept a diary when you were young, you'll know what I mean. Laurel's deepest thoughts and fears start pouring out onto the pages. Eventually, the pages cannot contain everything and she opens up to the world. There are so many things going on in this book that make it hard to sum up in a few short paragraphs. If I tried to box it in, I would not be doing this book justice. 

Even though I felt very passionately about this book while reading it, it didn't linger in my mind. There are some books that you just cannot move beyond. They echo in your soul. Love Letters to the Dead was not one of those books. I thought it would be. I went into this book expecting it to be the next "big thing" for me-- the book I would tell everyone about. But I have to be honest. I haven't given it much thought since finishing it. 

Do I think it's worth reading? Sure. It's a pretty good coming of age story. The plot is full of layers that slowly peel away. Laurel learns some tough life lessons too. Love Letters to the Dead really deals with the heavy hitters of YA fiction: divorce, suicide, relationships, depression.


  1. I had some conflicting feelings about this one. I liked the conceit, and I liked how the character was finally able to come back to her life after processing her sister's death through the experience. BUT, and this is a big but, I think the author abused the epistolary format to the point where it was too unbelievable to me. That is, in Laurel's letters that she's writing, she puts too many things in the letters that presumably the recipient would already know, and that information is there solely for the reader's sake.


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Product Details

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Square Fish (August 21, 2007)
ISBN-10: 9780312369828
Source: My personal book

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