REVIEW: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (Review by Sarah McDuling)

love-letters-to-the-deadLove Letters to the Dead is a powerful coming-of-age novel that will grab hold of your heart and soul, drawing you into the narrator’s world so completely that finishing the book is actually quite upsetting – like having a door slammed in your face by your new best friend. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the top Young Adult novels of the year.

This book first came to my attention when I saw that Emma Watson had tweeted about it. As a general rule, I will do whatever Emma Watson says because she is Hermione and therefore my idol. So when she gave her seal of approval, I obediently googled Ava Dellaira and discovered that she’s friends with Stephen Chbosky and had worked as an associate producer on the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. After that I was naturally desperate to get my hands on a copy. 

Love Letters to the Dead is the story of Laurel, a young woman who is quietly drowning in grief and guilt. We are introduced to Laurel as she starts her freshman year of High School. (That means Year 9, for those of you who don’t speak American.)

At a glance, all the usual hallmarks of YA contemporary literature appear to be present and accounted for:

1. The (seemingly) Unattainable Crush:

In this case, his name is Sky. And if Sky was a mathematical equation he would look something like this:

Hot Guy + Mysterious Loner = Swoon10   

(Maths was never my best subject but I’m pretty sure that’s accurate).

2.  The Friend/s with Serious Life Problems:

Ava_Dellaira_author_photo Laurel’s two closest friends, Hannah and Natalie, are in love!  But their relationship is complicated. Neither of them are quite ready to come out of the closet and Hannah is dealing with a pretty stressful home-life situation.  Also she keeps ditching Natalie to date boys.

3. The Parents Who Just Don’t Understand:

Neither of Laurel’s parents have a very clear understanding what she’s going through. Her father is blinded by grief and her mother has skipped town at a time when Laurel needs her most.

4. The Thing That Happened in the Past that Must Remain Secret (until the end):

Laurel’s family was torn apart after the death of her older sister, May. But only Laurel knows the whole story behind what happened the night May died. And she can’t talk about it. She can barely even think about it.

So there you go. The bare bones of the story probably sound familiar to you. Most of us have read books like this before. But while the ingredients that have gone into making Love Letters to the Dead may be standard staples, Ava Dellaira throws a serving of raw emotion into the mix that takes everything to a whole new level. And I think that’s what makes Love Letters to the Dead such a special treat. It’s a genuine heartbreaker.

Another thing I love about this beautiful book is the fact that it’s written as a series of letters addressed to dead celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, I got a real kick out of this. Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart and River Phoenix are just a few of the intriguing people Laurel chooses to write to. She writes the first letter for a school assignment, but then cannot bring herself to turn it in. Instead, she keeps writing letters to dead people. And as she writes she slowly reveals the tragic secret behind the death of her older sister, May.

love-letters-to-the-deadDellaira writes with such perfect pitch and subtle skill, Love Letters to the Dead feels like a modern classic. Laurel is a very self-contained and unassuming protagonist, one who spends the majority of the book repressing her feelings and denying the past. The true depth of her suffering is revealed so gradually that  I think I was about a third of the way through the novel before it dawned on me that she wasn’t just wallowing in typical teen angst. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. I happen to love wallowing in teen angst, and I’m a proper grown up adult (supposedly).

This is one of those books that sort of creeps up on you. You start reading and everything seems pretty cool. You’re like, “Oh hey! I see what’s going on here. High school girl with high school problems. Boy drama! Teen Issues! Burgeoning womanhood! I know the drill.”

But as you keep reading you find yourself starting to think, “Hold up. I’m having some strong feelings about this book. Powerful emotions are happening! This is not a drill!

This beautiful book is the perfect for fans of poignant (i.e. emotionally apocalyptic) Young Adult literature like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in our Stars. And the craziest part? This is the author’s first book! I’m completely blown away by that fact. After such an impressive debut, I can’t wait to see what Ava Dellaira does next because … wow.

Grab a copy of Love Letters to the Dead here

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiastic fibber.

You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

REVIEW: Half Bad by Sally Green (review by Sarah McDuling)

half-badEvery so often you hear about a book that’s being touted as a “global sensation”. Usually in such cases the film rights have been bought, the author is being labelled “the next J.K Rowling” and the general consensus seems to be OMG this is it! The New Craze! The Next Big Thing! And so on, and so forth. We’ve heard it all before, right?

And yet it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear it, whenever a book like this comes along I get caught up in the hype. My expectations soar to dizzying heights. I find myself thinking, “This book is going to change my life! It will blow my mind and rock my world. It will save the rainforests and end world poverty! God bless this miraculous book!”

Of course, I’m nearly always disappointed.

It’s not the book’s fault. It’s just that sometimes hype can be dangerous. Too much hype can kill a good book, purely because it can’t possibly measure up to the high expectations of the reader. However, Half Bad by Sally Green might just be the exception to this rule

(NB: Half Bad by Sally Green is probably not going save any rainforests or end world poverty.  I mean it might. But probably not. I just want to be upfront about that, before we go any further.)

Sally Green, author of the upcoming Half Life trilogy, really doesn’t have all that much in common with J. K. Rowling. Well … except that they are both British. And female. Also, both are blonde and have children. Does this qualify Sally Green as the next J.K Rowling?  I’m not sure about that. What I am sure of are the following facts:

1). Sally Green is a first time author.Sally Green

2). Her Half Life trilogy has been sold into 42 countries.

3) There was a massive bidding war between major studios in order to secure the film rights.

4) All of this happened before the first book in the trilogy had even been published.

Now that’s a lot of hype to live up to.

In terms of what the book is about, I’m almost reluctant to say. Any kind of synopsis I give is probably going to make it sound like a Harry Potter rip-off. The truth is, comparisons to Harry Potter are unavoidable here. Both books are about teenaged boys with magical powers –  boys who must navigate their way through an intricate world of witches/wizards, burdened by tragic pasts and unwanted notoriety.

Still, despite these superficial similarities, Half Bad is actually a very fresh and imaginative take on a well known theme. At no point does it come off feeling clichéd or unoriginal which (let’s be honest) is an impressive feat for a Young Adult novel about witches. This is not new territory, after all. And yet, somehow Sally Green has managed to put a whole new spin on a familiar tune. Whereas Harry Potter is very much a fanstasy, Half Bad is more of a gritty, comptemporary coming-of-age story … that just happens to include witches. More importantly, it’s an enthralling page turner starring a complex and compelling protagonist. All up, a riveting first act in what promises to be an impressive show.

So. Will Half Bad live up to the hype and become the next big publishing phenomenon? I certainly hope so, but I can’t say for sure. These things can be hard to predict.  All I can say is that I completely understand why people are so excited about this new trilogy. Even handicapped by my ridiculously high expectations, Half Bad did not disappoint.

This is a series I’ll be very glad to see capture the hearts and minds of a new generation of teens.

Spoiler Alert: Despite what you may have heard, Half Bad  does not contain a map to the lost city of Atlantis or the secret to eternal youth. It is, however, a very good book that you will  have difficulty putting down.

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Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiaster fibber. You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

Grab a copy of Half Bad here

half-badIn modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both.

Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness from an idea by Siobhan Dowd, illustrated by Jim Kay

You are only young once, but doesn’t it go on for a long time, more years than you can bear.

This is not the way my day was supposed to start, waking a couple of hours before dawn and then reading compulsively until I reached sobbing stage at the final few pages of Patrick Ness’ stunning new book. As it was, I had been up late having started, and then devoured, this visceral, original tale of love and loss, or rather the fear or loss.

A Monster Calls reminds us of what the very finest of young adult fiction can be. Its story is both imaginative and grounded, ranging from fantasy to reality. It proceeds with both inevitability and unpredictability. It is both dark and redemptive.

The experience of reading this book is augmented by its presentation. A finely produced hardback with beautiful end papers and dust jacket, the book is liberally peppered with stunning illustrations from pen and ink illustrations from Jim Kay. The illustrations are as integral to the story as the words. There is much to linger over, but I must confess that the tug of the words compelled me to keep turning those pages. Think Monster Blood Tattoo, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and the now sadly unavailable adaptation of Frankenstein by Margrete Lamond and Drähos Zak. To get an idea of what I mean, go here to see some internal page spreads.

That Patrick Ness should write another gripping tale should be no surprise. This much lauded author for Continue reading

Teen Book Video Awards – make some noise

In the hotly contested young adult fiction market it is always a battle to get attention to any one particular book. At the same time, for young creative types, it is always a battle to get attention and to make some noise. Put the two needs together and voila, the Teen Book Video Awards is born.

The concept is simple. Run a competition for high school film makers to make a 90 second book trailer, link it to a defined set of books (all published by Random House Australia), engage the kids with a contemporary novel through the powerful medium of film and get teacher support with resources that back up the books. The incentive is $1,000 for the student plus $1,000 worth of books for the school.

There is an interesting list of titles from mainly Australian authors. The two that I’d like to get my camera out for? Thyla and Pig Boy.

Darkwater by Georgia Blain Voyages of the Flying Dragon 1: Quillblade by Ben Chandler
Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski The Ivory Rose by Belinda Murrell
The Iron Witch by Karen Mahoney Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres Laws of Magic 6: Hour of Need by Michael Pryor
Thyla by Kate Gordon Dangerously Placed by Nansi Kunze
Pig Boy by J.C. Burke My Life and Other Stuff I Made Up by Tristan Bancks and Gus Gordon
The Witch Hunter Chronicles 1: The Scourge of Jericho by Stuart Daly Votive by Karen Brooks
To Die For by Mark Svendsen Maximum Ride: Angel by James Patterson

Entries close September 30. More info here.

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