Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Posted May 5, 2014 by Kara in book review, Kara / 5 Comments

Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava DellairaLove Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on April 1st, 2014
Genres: contemporary, young adult
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

This book and I got off on a bit of the wrong foot. I was never a huge Nirvana fan, and though I knew going into it that she would be writing to him, I underestimated the role those letters to him would play. I was also worried about my connection to Laurel because I wasn’t feeling her in the beginning. For me, this is one of those books I was glad I stuck it out with. Though it didn’t end up being a favorite, I can still say I really liked it, and pretty clearly articulate what worked for me and what didn’t.

What Worked:

~ First of all, I really loved the writing. Though I didn’t connect with Laurel right off the bat, I did love the author’s way with words. I bookmarked a few passages that I loved and resonated with me the most.

Tristan smokes pot a lot and didn’t take the right tests, and he likes shop and art the most of his classes. But more than that, even, he likes rock music and playing guitar. I think he really wants to be a musician, but not just because he wants to be famous. He wants to be one because of what Slash said, about how being a rock star is the intersection between who you are and who you want to be. He plays guitar so well, you wouldn’t believe it. But he doesn’t have a band. And he doesn’t try really hard to get one. He mostly plays alone in his room instead. That’s what Kristen says. I think he does this for the same reason Hannah doesn’t turn in her work when her teachers say she is smart. I think a lot of people want to be someone, but we are scared that if we try, we won’t be as good as everyone imagines we could be.

And this really struck me in a way that made me think. There are so many things I wanted to do with my life but I just didn’t believe enough. I didn’t believe I was good enough and that I could achieve those dreams. I’m not saying I’m a weak person, but I think the strongest people fight those demons and make those dreams come true. 

Also, this one: 

“Let me tell you something, Buttercup,” he said. “There are two most important things in the world–being in danger, and being saved.”I thought for a moment of May. I asked him, “Do you think we go into danger on purpose, so we can get saved?”“Yes, sometimes. But sometimes the wolf comes down out of the mountains, and you didn’t ask for it. You were just trying to take a nap in the foothills.”Then I asked him, “But if those are the two most important things, what about being in love?”“Why do you think that’s the most profound thing for a person? It’s both at once. When we are in love, we are both completely in danger and completely saved.”

I just…that writing. If I hated everything else about this book, the writing would still tug at my heart and make me keel over with passion. It’s freaking beautiful. I understand why this book is connecting with people. There are little snippets like this scattered all over the pages; they make you think about life, and love, and everything that makes you who you are. It is a thinking book without even attempting to be a thinking book. Everything is so easy. This book is like a whisper in your ear, telling you that the world is a beautiful place and also an ugly place at the same time. It’s real, it’s gritty, and it’s powerful.

There is a story, but this book is about the characters, their actions, and the consequences that follow. There are characters for everyone. I think there are situations that almost everyone will relate to, and then there might be some that only YOU relate to. It’s like a puzzle. All the pieces are there but when the last one fits into place, everything is right in the world. 

Also, on a different note. This book brought out some lovely memories of the 90s in me. A bygone era that I grew up in that will forever hold a very special place in my heart.

The romance was sweet and the characters were real and round and full of vibrancy.

What didn’t work:

Ugh. My least favorite part of every review. It’s a small thing, but you know, the main theme of this book was sisterhood, and loving your sister, reflecting on her life, and the mess she left behind. I have never had a sister…I grew up as an only child, so books with this theme don’t generally connect with me in the way they should. It’s sad, I know. I feel like I missed out by not having that emotional connection to Love Letters to the Dead. And it’s definitely not the book’s fault. Generally, I believe saying that is a cop-out, but in this case I truly mean it. How can I hold this book at fault when it was me who never experienced the things that were so important to the core of this book?

Oh god. This is the vaguest review ever. *falls over*


This book completes the “YA Book” square for Bookish Bingo.

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