Saturday, August 2, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead

It's Laurel's first year in high school and the first school year without her sister, May, or her mother, who moved to California after May's death. She transferred to a different school so that she wouldn't be pitied and known as the girl whose sister died. Her English teacher assigns a project to write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because he is May's favorite singer and also because she relates to his emotional lyrics.This first letter leads her to write to other dead celebrities, such as Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, Judy Garland, and John Keats. Laurel relates her lonely existence, her first friends at her new school, their antics, and her first boyfriend. Unfortunately, her refusal to talk about her issues and her penchant for doing dangerous things drives the people she loves away. Can she work through her issues before she permanently loses her friends or causes sever injury to herself?

Love Letters to the Dead is a very emotional book. Laurel goes through a lot in a very short amount of time and uses her letters to a variety of famous dead people to cope with it. She relates to their lives, their feelings, and their tragedies. I'm surprised that she researched more than what is common knowledge about their lives so that I learned something about them as well. Her letters also describe her new life and how she tries to transform herself. High school has much different expectations than middle school and she wears her sister's cool clothes and changes her habits to fit in. I generally liked Laurel and I felt for her. She's trying to work through her grief and the deep pain she feels while making mistakes along the way. Ava Dellaira employs beautiful, poetic prose that made me relate to Laurel and also made the book easy and enjoyable to read.

Unfortunately, I had quite a few issues with the book. Dellaira's lyrical prose isn't consistent. At times, Laurel writes in short and very simple declarative sentences that are a stark contrast to the lyrical prose that ventures into deep territory. It felt a bit disjointed and weird to me. She befriends Hannah and Natalie who basically peer pressure her into drinking, ditching classes, going to college parties, etc. She doesn't seem to want to actually do these things, but only wants to appear cool to her friends. This is never seen as negative, is never really addressed, and left a bad taste in my mouth. These are also very similar to May's destructive behaviors, but they magically didn't negatively effect Laurel's grades or behavior during school or at home even though she was getting drunk a lot, partying late, etc. I also didn't like her relationship with Sky. The chemistry was forced and the double standards were glaring. Sky expected Laurel to tell him everything while he kept up this mysterious guy facade and kept things from her late into their relationship. It was a bit awkward and the double standard bothered me. I was also shocked that her mother just decided to move out of state and leave her grieving family very soon after such a traumatic event. I felt it was incredibly selfish and pretty much unforgivable, especially when she calls weekly and expects Laurel to be ok with it.

Love Letters to the Dead is a mostly beautifully written novel. I enjoyed Laurel, her journey, and how she related to these dead people. Her story pulled at my heartstrings and took me on an emotional rollercoaster. The book addresses these mostly tragic figures lives well and informs the reader about their lives and their feelings. I did have some significant issues with parts of the story, but I overall enjoyed it.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

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