Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead Review

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Published: 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 rating:
3.5 of 5 stars

[First, a note about how I rate things here versus on Goodreads: I have a tendency to rate up on Goodreads. For example, I rated The Fault in Our Stars a 4 out of 5 stars on GR but on here, I rated it a 3.5. I do this only because you can't do half stars on Goodreads. The same goes for this book. If I like a book more than I didn't, I'll round up on GR. If not, obviously, I'll round down but that hasn't happened so far.]

As a person who doesn't normally read contemporary lit (aka realistic fiction or whatever you want to call it), I've been on a contemporary kick lately for which I blame TFIOS entirely. Not that I'm complaining, I'm just surprised. So, as a reader who doesn't have much contemporary lit under her belt, I must say I've been enjoying the ride so far and Love Letters to the Dead was definitely a good addition to the metaphorical notches on said metaphorical contemporary belt.

The whole idea behind this book is pretty cool. An English teacher assigns students to write a letter to a dead person and that assignment becomes a coping mechanism for our protagonist Laurel to deal with her grief over her recently deceased older sister. Cool idea, no? Slightly morbid in theory but interesting nonetheless. Laurel ends up writing to a bunch of dead famous people who died at young ages and whose lives she finds correlations with her relationships to her sister, her broken family, her friends, and her boyfriend. Reading this made me want to research Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix, Judy Garland, and Jimi Hendrix. I know who they are and the basics about them but not much more than that.

Laurel's voice is very distinct as a teenager in an in-between time of her life and as a girl who has lost
someone who she looked up to entirely. She is very preoccupied with what's "supposed to be" which seems expected considering her life isn't at all how it's supposed to be. She's supposed to have a great older sister, parents who love each other, her friends, and a boyfriend who loves her but that's not at all how her life is going. Love Letters is Laurel dealing with coping with how things are instead of how she wants things to be. Laurel makes a fairly decent narrator. Her letters mostly follow a pattern: first explaining a little about how great the addressee is then comparing their life to her own. It does get a tad bit repetitive around the middle of the book which makes the reading get a little slow for a while but it picks up once Laurel begins to face reality rather than continuing to wish for the past. The only thing that really annoyed me about Laurel is she's fairly na├»ve and gives in to peer pressure a lot. However, I can sort of forgive her for that because of her situation and her mental state. I would have rather she be more in control of herself and her own situation but the whole book is Laurel learning to do just that. Plus, she did take control of her situation when it mattered most.

This book had some great secondary characters. I really like Laurel's dad and I wish he had more page time. Aunt Amy was surprisingly multi-dimensional too. She's starts out as the typical Bible-thumping, "pray for you sins" type of character but she becomes more than that once Laurel gives her the chance. Natalie and Hannah were fun too - a bit on the wild end for innocent Laurel but they turned out to be great friends. And Sky. Sky had the potential to be a typical bad boy boyfriend. In a way he kind of was but he was still a cute character and really good to Laurel and if I were in his shoes, I probably would have broken up with Laurel too so no hard feelings there. Tristan and Kristen were awesome too but they mostly reminded me of Sam and Patrick from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I'll get more into that later.

One thing I loved about this book was it had some really great down to earth quotes. Like this one from Tristan:

"What I told you about saving people isn't true. You might think it is, because you might want someone else to save you, or you might want to save someone so badly. But no one else can save you, not really. Not from yourself. [...] You fall asleep in the foothills, and the wolf comes down from the mountains. And you hope someone will wake you up. Or chase it off. Or shoot it dead. But when you realize that the wolf is inside you, that's when you know. You can't run from it. And no one who loves you can kill the wolf, because it's part of you. They see your face on it. And they won't fire the shot." - pg. 227

Or my favorite one from Laurel:

"And maybe what growing up really means is knowing that you don't have to be just a character, going whichever way the story says. It's knowing you could be the author instead.” - pg. 301

There are mainly two reasons why I only gave this book a 3.5. The first is (and if you've read this, correct me if I'm wrong and maybe I'll change my rating) I'm pretty sure Laurel, Natalie, and Hannah were said to be fifteen. Aren't they freshmen in high school? Now it's been a few years since I was a high school freshman but I certainly wasn't fifteen. I was thirteen when I started. With that in mind, this whole book is off a little. Even if she looked older, how much older could Hannah, a high school freshman, have looked to be able to get jobs waitressing in a bunch of different restaurants? Did not of these restaurants really check her age? I'm 99% sure that's something they do before hiring you. And maybe I've just been living in a book-sheltered hut all my life but how are high school freshmen really getting older guys to get them booze? I just felt like the timeline and ages were off throughout this whole thing.

My second reason is Love Letters to the Dead is definitely just a rewrite of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. If Charlie from Perks was a girl who lost his sister, he'd be Laurel. Now, I borrowed this book from work (one of the many perks of working in a bookstore) and when you borrow a book, the managers keep the slip jacket so they know what you borrowed. Therefore, I hadn't noticed Stephen Chbosky's endorsement on the cover. When I read that he was Dellaira's mentor in the acknowledgments, it all suddenly clicked in my head like, 'yeah okay, it makes sense now.' What I don't understand is why. I was getting the Perks vibe throughout most of the book. Laurel is basically just a rewrite of Charlie just gender-swapped. Tristan and Kristen are Sam and Patrick. Both are written in letters. Both have English teachers who try to help them. Both endured similar experiences when they were younger that I won't mention because they'd be spoilers. There was even a similar scene where Laurel, Natalie, and Hannah are driving with their music blaring and they felt free (pg. 278) which is basically a rewrite of the infinite scene in Perks. 

So if you've already read Perks, you've sort of already read Love Letters in a way. Still, Love Letters to the Dead was a good book and I'd recommend it to others. I liked Perks more though. It has practically the same themes and essential meaning except Charlie doesn't get overly wordy like Laurel does sometimes. Nevertheless, I did really enjoy this book.


  1. Wow. This was a very detailed review. I remember myself reading this book! I thought it was mehhhh as well

    1. Haha sometimes, when I finish a particular book I just have a lot to say. This was one of those times. It wasn't a bad book it was just not a new story.


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