Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead - Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Genre: YA, contemporary
Published on April 1, 2014
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 327
Read From: 5.28.14 - 5.31.14

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. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead - to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse - though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven't forgiven? 
It's not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally 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 truly start to discover her own path.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do love the cover art; very simplistic and dreamlike. It's partly why I bought the book, to be honest. The other reason was because I'm meeting the author.

Characters: It's hard to say that I liked anyone. Laurel pretty much just follows the crowd, gives in to everything her friends pressure her to do, and never stands up for herself. This leads her to make a lot of really stupid decisions, and I have a hard time liking someone who is so continuously idiotic. But I also didn't hate her. I was more frustrated than anything else, which didn't make for a very sympathetic protagonist. And since this is a rather long book, it's harder to accept annoying characters than if it were shorter. I did not like her two friends; they were the reason she kept making bad decisions. Sky was actually all right; he at least tried to keep Laurel from making as many stupid - and life destroying - choices that her sister May did.

The Romance: It's quick and typical teenage romance. Oddly enough, though, it was the least bothersome thing for me in the book. Maybe because I knew it was going to happen, but I think mostly because it actually sort of worked in its own bizarre way. I did like Sky; he was good for Laurel. So I was fine with she and him being together. Maybe Sky could put some sense into her. That being said, Sky also isn't honorable - he almost sleeps with Laurel several times - and I can never look past that.

Plot: Laurel is starting high school in the aftermath of her elder sister's tragic death. Laurel is trying to leave it all behind, but she can't stop thinking about what happened that night. When her English teacher gives her class an assignment: write a letter to a dead famous person, Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because May loved him so much. It's not long before Laurel is writing more than one letter, and to other people besides Kurt. She writes to Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin, and many others. As the letters become more and more personal, Laurel comes to realize that she can't turn any of them in. Especially when she begins to go through the process of forgiving May - and realizing that she wasn't as perfect as Laurel would like to remember her being. So Love Letters to the Dead really is just a journal of a teen's life through high school and tragic events. Dull, right? If I had been in a different mood, I probably would have found it just that. But Love Letters to the Dead is oddly captivating. The Reader wants to know what happened to May, and the Reader wants to desperately see Laurel turn herself around and stop heading down her path of destruction. Laurel struggles with a lot of heavy topics and situations, always makes the wrong decision, and the Reader wants to know why. Because it's obvious that it somehow links back to what happened to May. Is this a big, grand mystery? No. But it did catch my attention and propel me to the end.

Believability: No complaints.

Writing Style: First person, past and present, depending on what Laurel is writing. The entire story is told through letters to various famous dead people. I am a sucker for this narration device, and it's part of why this book caught my attention to begin with. I really enjoyed the writing style. I didn't find the letter format tedious and sometimes I even forgot that they were letters.

Content: 15 f-words, 7 s-words. This book handles a lot of heavy topics in very raw language. Laurel's two new friends are lesbians, though oddly enough it didn't feel like the Author was pushing an agenda. Laurel is molested and almost raped on several occasions, the girls drink excessively, a couple of Laurel's friends do drugs, et cetera. I didn't mark down any passages because the content is a pretty heavy constant. Laurel enters a whirlpool of destruction, and it nearly does her in.

Conclusion: About 80% away from the ending of Love Letters to the Dead, I told myself that if this book didn't end with a purpose, I would hate it. If Laurel didn't turn around, didn't learn a lesson, and didn't find help, I would get rid of the book, never mind I'm meeting the Author. I hate books where the protagonist enters a path of destruction and then it doesn't end with their redemption. If the protagonist is redeemed in the end, I can actually really enjoy the book. This may be a bit of a spoiler, but I won't give too many details: Laurel does get help. When the Reader learns what happened the night May died, it turns Laurel into a very pitiable, "I-feel-for-you" character. It explains her behavior, and suddenly Love Letters to the Dead doesn't just become a typical high school drama novel with teens acting stupidly. It becomes rather heart-wrenching. Love Letters to the Dead isn't a light read; not even a little bit. It addresses a lot of heavy issues, and while it ends with Laurel finally getting help, it still has a pretty bittersweet feel to it. I'm giving this book 2/5 strawberries, but in all honesty, I still have no idea what I think of this book. It left me contemplative and kind of depressed and in need of a light Middle Grade fantasy novel. Did I really dislike this book? No. Did I enjoy it? I'm not sure "enjoy" is the right word. Is this how the book is supposed to leave you? I'm thinking probably. So, the 2/5 will stand for now, but I may still change it later. (NOTE: after careful consideration, I have decided to give this book 4/5 strawberries).

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, nineteen-and-up, fans of heavy contemporary.

1 comment:

  1. This is isn't a fast-paced action book like my previous fictional choice, so steer clear if that is what you are looking for. Love Letters to the Dead is, however, an introspective and rather thought-provoking coming-of age-work that is written in an earnest voice, completely through letters directed to celebrities, and occasional poets, who have died.

    For me, it worked.


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