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Title: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Pub. Date: April 1, 2014
Rec. Age Level: 14+
Laurel’s sister May died last year and, despite the fact that it’s often on her mind, she doesn’t want anyone at her new school to know about it. She doesn’t want anyone to know about Laurel or that her family is scattered and broken or about anything else that happened before now. Freshman year is a clean start. When Laurel is assigned to write a letter to a dead person, she chooses Kurt Cobain - who better to understand May and the circumstances surrounding her death than her favorite tragic rock star? As Laurel struggles to cope with the loss of her sister and the ups and downs of new friends and first love the letters continue. Some addressed to Kurt Cobain, others to Amelia Earhardt, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, e.e. cummings… As the letters pile up, the secrets Laurel battles rise to the surface, forcing an emotional confrontation in order for Laurel to move forward with her life.
Love Letters to the Dead is so beautifully written that it almost makes the emotional pain it inflicts sweet. From the first pages until the last, I was enchanted by the language and descriptions, the raw and honest emotion within Laurel’s letters. For me, the events surrounding May’s death and the secrets Laurel was hiding weren’t really a mystery; it was accompanying Laurel on her journey to understand and move past what happened that was truly compelling.
It isn’t obvious from the description, but Love Letters to the Dead is told entirely in letters; there aren’t just letters here and there throughout the book. Some readers don’t like epistolary novels, but I adore them. Novels in this format – especially those that feature letters from only the main character with no responses, like Love Letters to the Dead – feel like a diary. Letters offer a unique vantage point from which to view the character, exposing nuances and details that might otherwise go overlooked.
Lovers of music and poetry will no doubt love this novel. Many of Laurel’s letters are addressed to deceased musicians and poets, most of whom I think readers will be familiar with, but, even if they aren’t, it’s likely they will be inspired to go learn more about these individuals Laurel entrusts her story to.
Love Letters to the Dead is unforgettable and I urge you to read it.