Author: Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Number of Pages: 323
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
It's been quite awhile since a book has made me cry legitimate tears. True, I mostly stay away from "issue" books or books that I know going in are going to be sad, but I couldn't resist picking this one up. For one thing that cover is just amazing. The font, the sky, the way she is sitting on the letters. Everything about it is perfect. More than that though, I'm a huge fan of epistolary books. I don't know what it is, but if I find out a book is written through letters, emails, or diary entries, I'm all over it. Like the title states, this book is told through letters to the dead--dead celebrities to be exact, and it is heartbreaking and melancholy and beautiful. It isn't the perfect book, but it is one that really touched me.
Laurel's life is consumed by heartbreak. Her beloved older sister, May, recently died and her family is falling apart. She is starting school at the high school across town so that she doesn't have to face the sympathy of everyone around her and so she doesn't have to face May's (figurative) ghost in the hallways of May's old school. She is splitting her time between her father's house and her aunt Amy's house--to go to the new school she is using her aunt's address. After May's death, her mother ran away to California. Laurel is completely alone. She feels like her mother has abondanded her (the weekly phone calls just don't cut it), her father is a shell of the man he once was, and her aunt, while well-meaning-is almost a non-entity even though she lives with her every other week. When her new English teacher assigns the class their first assignment--to write a letter to somebody--Laurel chooses the late Kurt Cobain. Deciding that the letter is too personal, she doesn't hand it in, but instead finds herself writing all sorts of different celebrities from Amy Winehouse to Amelia Erheart to Heath Ledger. It is through these letters that we watch a year of Laurel's life as she makes new friends, admits what really happened the night of her sister's death, and begins to let go.
At her new school, Laurel befriends two girls, Natalie and Hannah. She quickly realizes that the two girls are more than friends. Natalie is in love with Hannah and wants for their relationship to be real. Hannah isn't ready for that. I really felt for both of these girls, as well. Hannah is an orphan who lives with her grandparents who have no idea what is going on in her life, and her scarily strict older brother. While she cares for Natalie, she just isn't ready to admit to herself that their relationship could be real. Instead, she messes around with a string of older guys while Natalie looks on. My heart broke for her...and for Natalie who has to watch as the girl she loves throw herself at these loser guys.
Also part of their group, although not as quite in the forefront, are a senior couple, Tristan and Kristen. Kristen introduces Laurel to Janis Joplin and the couple gently take Laurel under their wing. Despite the fact that the two hang out in the alley behind school where kids go to smoke pot, Kristen is a wonderful student who is hoping to get into Columbia in the fall. Tristan is an underachiever. I loved this couple.
Finally, there is also a love interest named Sky, who is cute and caring and a bit mysterious.
Besides the characters, whom I loved, my favorite part of this book was who the letters were written to. As a 90s girl, I have a soft spot for Kurt Cobain and River Phoenix. Honestly, I love pretty much everyone she writes, but those two are especially important to me. I was in high school when Kurt Cobain died and remember feeling heartbroken. I loved Nirvana and was such a fan of Kurt and Courtney (what? She was awesome back in the 90s, too. I remember seeing Hole live--amazing). As she is writing her letters, she will talk about their lives She talks about the cult River's family was in during his younger years before Hollywood, for example. She writes to Kurt about his daughter. It's very cool.
The one thing I will say, is that Love Letters to the Dead is heavily reminiscent of Perks of Being a Wallflower. You have the letters, of course, but, more than that, you have the melancholy, almost hard-to-read tone; the growing friendship with the cool, outcast kids; the mysterious death of a loved one; the secret homosexual relationship. While I really did enjoy LLttD, it did sometimes seem a little too much like Perks.
Overall, this book was wonderful. It is sad and beutiful and true. I loved Laurel and Natalie and Hannah and wanted to wrap my arms around all three girls. You might want to keep a box of Kleenex handy before you pick this up, but it's worth it.
*I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.*