Review: Love Letters to the Dead

Review: Love Letters to the DeadTitle: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Genre/Age Group: Contemporary, Young Adult
Source: Gifted
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 3.5 Stars

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.

my thoughts

Love Letters to the Dead was, by far, my most anticipated debut of 2014. When Estelle found out about this, she sent me her extra ARC (for which I am so grateful!). A reminiscent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I knew this book was going to be my jam from the very start. And I really liked it. It’s very good. It is definitely a ME book, which is why I was so surprised I never actually got the feels from it. While invested in Laurel’s story, I felt very distanced from her. I can’t really pinpoint what it was that made me not entirely sold on this one, but I do know that it disappoints me to say so. Perhaps it was too similar to The Perks of Being a Wallflower to impress me on its own. I wish this book had been a favorite, because it so easily could have been. And I clearly see the amazing writing, and the great character development, and its many other qualities. But somehow, it never got to me.

Laurel is such a endearing main character. She has obviously been damaged and this has resulted in her being a very sheltered, young girl. She still has a hard time dealing with her sister’s death, and she idolizes May. She’s very vulnerable, and I thought her way of thinking was very interesting, because it was innocent and awkward as well as beautifully phrased. And honestly, she did remind me a lot of The Perks’s  Charlie, and her friends reminded me a lot of his as well. But I loved Laurel’s friends. I love that Ava Dellaira wrote in a LGBT theme that actually felt natural, and I especially loved Laurel’s senior friends (though I forgot their names), because they were just what she needed. In an attempt to cope with her feelings, Laurel and her friends experiment with alcohol and drugs, which may not work for everyone, but felt really natural to me. It was mostly the friendship that got to me.

I wasn’t a fan of the romance. Sky was obviously sweet and really cared about Laurel, but their love story felt very forced and robotic to me. Like always in books, I prefer a story without romance instead of a story with mediocre romance. But that may be just me. Other people may really like it. I also wasn’t sure what to feel about what happened to Laurel, View Spoiler », worked for me. It’s such a heavy thing that I was surprised I felt so bland about it. It may be because I was expecting it. I still really love the concept. I liked that Laurel wrote letters to dead people who had influenced her, especially because they influenced May as well. I also thought May was a very interesting character, because even though she dies before the book even starts, we get to know her through Laurel’s memories. Starting off as a manicpixiedreamgirl, I loved the way Laurel’s thoughts about her sister change and make her more human.

But despite the fact that this is a very good book, I felt very bland reading it, which I was not expecting at all. In all honestly, I have no idea why this book, that is so perfect for me, didn’t get to me. It’s a heavy story, but I guess I wasn’t emotionally invested enough to feel Laurel’s desperation and loss for myself. Most of all, Love Letters to the Dead seems like it could be a companion novel to The Perks of Being a Wallflower, because the stories are so incredibly similar. That might’ve caused me to be so distant from it. Or maybe it just reminded me too much of other issue books I have read, which made it a little generic. But Ava Dellaira is incredibly talented, and I’m looking forward to whatever she writes next. Love Letters to the Dead is a very well-written book that didn’t get to me like I was hoping it would, but still touched me a little. It’s a book with delicate words and vulnerable characters and haunting memories.

memorable quotes

“I know that “What’s up?” is just something people say, but it’s a very hard thing to say anything back to. It’s like the only response is “nothing.” I didn’t want to say “nothing” because, actually, a lot was up.”

“What I told you about saving people isn’t true. You might think it is, because you might want someone to save you, or you might want to save someone so badly. But no one else can save you, not really. Not from yourself,” he said. “You fall asleep in the foothills, and the wolf comes down from the mountains. And you hope someone will wake you up. Or chase it off. Or shoot it dead. But when you realize the wolf is inside you, that’s when you know. You can’t run from it. And no one who loves you can kill the wolf, because it’s part of you. They see your face on it. And they won’t fire the shot.”

“You think you know someone, but that person always changes, and you keep changing, too. I understood it suddenly, how that’s what being alive means. Our own invisible plates shifting inside of our bodies, beginning to align into the people we are going to become.”

Judith is a 21 year old book blogger and reviewer, English student, part time magazine editor, compulsive book buyer, aspiring writer, proud book pusher, founder of Paper Riot and co-founder of the Recaptains. She is kind of addicted to Twitter. More?

5 Responses to “Review: Love Letters to the Dead”

  1. I had the same experience while reading Second Chance Summer – I expected to be an emotional wreck, but couldn’t fully connect to the MC or the way she told her story.

    The way Love Letters to the Dead is written sounds unique and different; I just hope I won’t feel distanced from everything.

    Great review, Judith! I’m sorry your most anticipated didn’t quite work for you as much as you wanted. :/

  2. This was one of my most anticipated books for this year also, but I think it’s also going to go down as one of my biggest disappointments. I didn’t connect with Laurel at all. I felt like I didn’t even know anything about who she was because she was too busy trying to be like everyone else. The letters didn’t flow right for me either. They felt forced and I didn’t feel like there was much of a connection between the person she was writing to and the events she was describing other than “And your song was playing on the radio”. I also agree about the romance. It was definitely robotic. And weird. As soon as he said he knew the sister, that was it for me.

    Anyway I felt bad because I wanted to like this one SO MUCH!! I just couldn’t :( And I agree it is a lot like Perks!

  3. Alexa S. says:

    I really loved Love Letters to the Dead! Even though it didn’t hit that “perfect” sweet spot with me, I really loved the writing, the characters and the overall execution of the idea. I’m sorry it didn’t quite meet your expectations though in all ways, especially as one of your most anticipated debuts this year.

  4. Estelle says:

    This book is so hard to talk about because it made me feel SO sad the entire time, but like you, I totally enjoyed the concept even if at times it felt so so so absolutely heavy. Which is why it reminded me of Perks. (I mean, in addition to a few other hundred reasons). But in the way that it made me feel so sad, I asked myself why I would ever read it again, and then when I finally did, I was glad. Does that make sense?

    I love the structure through letters and how into pop culture the character was. I’ll be interested to see what this author does next.

  5. Kelly says:

    I’ve seen a lot of people comparing this one to Perks, which makes me think I should just read Perks and skip this one! Haha

    On the other hand, without the comparisons to Perks in my head, maybe I’d really enjoy this one?

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