Monday, March 24, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead (Early Book Review)

Monday, March 24, 2014 12:23 PM with 21 comments
18140047
Love Letters to the Dead

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.

****************************************************************
 
MY THOUGHTS:
 
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.
 
Highly Recommend.
 
*I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.*
 
 

21 comments:

  1. So far, this book has had conflicting reactions. But I think yours has the definitive must-read-vibe. I love the 90s music reference and to whom the letters were addressed. And while I tend to stay away from angst-ridden books, I really think I should give this book a chance.

    Great review, Natalie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I usually stay away from angty books, too, but this one really is worth reading. I just felt such a connection with her because of the celebrities she writes. I hope you enjoy it if you do pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  2. This sounds like a really great read. I too love the 90s music reference. I think it is wonderful when books do that. It always makes them feel so much richer and deeper.
    I think i will have to put other books on hold and read this as soon as it comes out!
    Thanks for the awesome review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you love it! I loved all the 90s references, and the other celebrities, too like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin who I adore even if they were before my time. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  3. This one sounds interesting - I'm not a massive fan of the format in which letters/emails etc. are used to tell the story, but if it works well, I don't mind it. I need to keep my eye on this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm such a fan of epistolary novels, but I know it's not the most popular format. I hope you enjoy it if you do pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  4. I'm a 90s girl too, so I will definitely have to check out this book. Plus, if it reminds you of Perks…then I should definitely add it to my TBR list. I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much…fantastic review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely like Perks (again, maybe a little TOO much). The book isn't set in the 90s, but with Kurt and Phoenix and even Heath, it kind of has that vibe. I hope you like it if you do pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  5. I am so excited to read this one, good thing you told us about the tears so I make sure not to read it in front of people!
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It didn't make me weep throughout or anything, but, yeah some tears were definitely falling. I hope you love it! Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  6. You cried, too?! This is the second review I've read that said this! I THINK I NEED IT. I'm like a stoic stone when it comes to reading, so I kind of want to find something to make me cry (gosh, that sounds so warped...now that I've typed it out). Um, yeah. Buuut, Perks is one of my favourite all time books and I don't like reading take-offs, no matter how cool they are. Ah, well, it's on the wish list. I'll just have to batter my eyelashes at the library and hope they buy it. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did, and I don't usually cry at books either--although there have been a couple that have made me break down. The Perks thing is what it is. It's not like it was flat-out copying, but there are definitely a few too many similarities for it to be coincidence. I hope your library picks up a copy for you. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  7. Oh, really? I kept passing this one up, both because my review schedule is crazy scary right now and because of the tears I was afraid the story would elicit. Seems I made a mistake. I enjoyed Perks, and even if this is a little too similar, I still think I'd like it. Hmm...I guess I'll have to put this one on the list after all. I think I'd really like those letters, especially the one to River Phoenix.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, really. It's pretty good. I know what you mean. Just looking at all the books I have that come out in April makes me want to go into turtle mode. I'm really excited for almost all of them, but there are just sooo many. I hope you like it if you do pick it up. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  8. I love the cover of this but had seen a few neg. reviews so I was unsure as it to what it would be like. But, your review has convinced me I should read this as I love sad books and I too am a 90s girl, so I think I'll like the music references :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I only read one other review and she also liked it. I haven't been on GR a whole lot lately which is where I usually gauge other reactions by looking at star-ratings. I hope you like this if you do pick it up. If you like sad stories, you'll probably enjoy this. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  9. I usually like light and fluffy contemporary YA, but your review is tempting me to read this one. River Phoenix…he was one of my favorite young actors. I do like the fact that it's written in letters. Hmmm…I'll have to think about this one. Great review! ~Pam

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I usually like the light ones, too, but I really did enjoy this. River was the best. I adored him when I was little and was heartbroken when he died. I hope you like this if you give it a try. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  10. I am so glad to hear you say you loved this, since I've seen some pretty mixed reviews. I do love books that include letters and I love when there are heavy music references that make me feel so nostalgic. I can't wait to read this one now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really haven't seen many reviews for this one yet. I really enjoyed it, and if you like the epistolary format, you'll probably like this one. I hope you love it! Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  11. Oh man, this is going to crush me. I want to read it, but at the same time I want to stay away from it because this is one that's a trigger for me. It sounds like a stand out though, and you know it's going to be personal. It's why I do like reading ones written that way because it's nothing but personal. The characters sound great too, and ugh I think I'm going to regret it (with tears) but I am going to read it. I think I'm going to have to now. :) Glad you really loved it (even if it did make you cry.)

    Kirsty @ StudioReads

    ReplyDelete

Hello, there! Thanks for taking the time to comment. I read each and every one and will do my best to respond--usually on your blog instead of on mine. I will, however, always answer direct questions. Due to serious time restraints, this blog is now an award free zone, but I appreciate the thought!