Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the Dead
Ava Dellaria
Farrar, Straus and Giroux  April 1, 2014
Pages 327
ISBN13:  9780374346676

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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.

This book took me by surprise, there is far more to the story than letters to the dead.

This is one of those books where there will be two camps – love it or hate it. Laurel the main protagonist will not appeal to all. She has a rather passive voice, but in defense of this young girl, as the story is revealed you have a better understanding of her and her passivity.

Sensitive subject matters of rape, physical abuse, divorce, a shattered family, divorce, promiscuity and more. The story encompasses many issues creating a heartbreaking story.

I felt for Laurel, she carries so much pain and struggles to deal with the emotional aftermath the reader can’t help but feel for her plight. Despite her passive nature she is strong girl and sensible. She starts off rocky but blossoms as her journey progresses. She is wounded but not to the point of self destruction and apathy, most of all she desperately wants to come to terms with a heavy past and painful present.

Dellaria created a great premise, the letters angle is clever and serves as a form leading to healing for Laurel. As Laurel writes her chosen deceased ‘celebrities’ she points out their lives and Achilles heel.

Affecting with other forceful storylines intertwining covering various weighted topics.

I’m on the fence with one. Granted it was clever, sensitive subjects approached but….there was an unmistakable flatness for a narrative covering so much and so many players. Once you came to terms with the flatness it seemed to snowball into contrived. Been a while since I have been a teen, and her parents, and family lacked the strength I find appealing – all these factors contribute to my uncertainty.

I believe this book would translate better on film than paper, rare but true from my reading experience.


3 stars


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