Publication date: 1 April 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux BFYR
ISBN 10/13: 0374346674 | 9780374346676
Category: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: Contemporary, Realistic, Abuse, Grief, Epistolary
Format: Hardcover, eBook
Source: ARC from Publisher
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.
Part school assignment, part confessional, Love Letters to the Dead introduces the reader to Laurel, a pensive girl whose older sister May, her de facto role model and idol, is dead; her family life has shattered in the wake of tragedy. For much of the book, the reader can only guess at how May died; we get the impression that Laurel witnessed the incident. But was it murder, suicide, or an accident?
Dellaria's writing style hovers on the edges of magical realism as Laurel struggles with memories she can't or won't recall. On the surface, it's the voice of a young girl with major emotional issues trying to cope with the already baffling struggles of puberty and the social lives of high schoolers. She lives part time with her aunt so that she doesn't have to attend the school that May did. She tries on parts of May's wardrobe and personality, but cannot move forward without examining her own guilt over her sister's death. She writes to the celebrities that May held in high esteem and tells them what she cannot bring herself to tell the the parents and teachers who have tried to reach out to her (some of these people even seem to have given up). The writing exercise forces her to get to the dark heart of her sadness, and the secrets she reveals are painful both to herself and the reader.
I found this novel deeply moving and well-written. At one point I felt the story begin to unravel with so many different sub-plots tugging at the seams: Laurel's crush and his connection to the world she was trying to leave behind, her two best girl friends exploring their sexuality--sometimes with each other, and her adult family members too busy dealing with their own baggage to take much care of Laurel. Ultimately Dellaria pulls it all together, threading the stories back through each other in a pensive tale of grief and hope. This lyrical coming-of-age novel melds family drama with historical and pop culture references to create a story that is touching, melancholy, and bittersweet.
*Please note that this post contains affiliate links. For more details, please see our full disclosure policy here.
**I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.