Love 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:
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.
Dellaira 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.
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.