Book Review: Love Letters to the Dead *Tissues required*

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“There are some things that I can’t tell anyone, except the people who aren’t here anymore.”

– Love Letters to the Dead

Its been a while since a book reduced me to tears. Well, OK. I’m fibbing. I’m just trying to make out that I’m braver than I am. Books ALWAYS make me cry.

The last book to reduce me to tears was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The book that inspired a high grossing movie and created an enviably loyal, and insanely large, fan base in the process. Yup. I was a big, crazy, blubbery mess for ages afterwards. I’m gearing myself up to go and see the film but, not one to cry in public (I’m an advocate of sarcasm as an expression of feelings), I would not be a happy bunny if I were to emerge from the darkness of the cinema to find I’ve got the dreaded Panda Eyes. I am not interested in this cry hangover everyone is chatting about on Twitter, and yet I am drawn to these incredibly emotional books. Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira, is the latest one to reel me in and I am really glad it did.

As much as I loved TFIOS, there is something far more believable about Dellaira’s debut novel.

I don’t know if its the writing, or the characters, or even the subject matter (which is something I – like many others – have had experience with) that is so appealing. Its a beautiful novel, it really is, and it is well worth the venture into YA fiction for those who aren’t usually drawn to the genre.

The novel centres around Laurel, a high school freshman who’s much loved older sister, May, died some months before in mysterious circumstances. In turns out that Laurel is the sole witness to May’s death although she is unable to mention what happened to anyone, not even her parents. The only place she can really make sense of what’s going on is a notebook of letters she writes to dead celebrities.

That sounds a bit weird. Let me explain.

Laurel starts school with the hope that she’ll forget the past and fit in (much like Charlie in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower). As one of her first assignments she is given the task to write a letter to a dead person. Not so easy for the recently bereaved. But she soon finds herself pouring her heart out to a host of dead famous people and trying desperately to understand why some people are taken from us so young. Each chapter begins with “Dear Kurt Cobain”; “Dear Judy Garland”; “Dear Amy Winehouse.”

I don’t know if Dellaira has any experience with sibling loss or knows someone who has, because she writes about it beautifully and intelligently. Its is not over-dramatic, nor is it the cheesy holding-the-deceased-loved-one-on-a-pedestal we see so often in books/films. In fact, one of the issues Dellaira addresses in the novel is the notion of the “perfect” older sister and the identity crisis Laurel experiences. What happens when the person you have defined yourself against is gone? Who are you without them, and without the guidance of grieving parents? It makes for really poignant reading.

Death aside. Love Letters also explores issues surrounding growing up and finding yourself, making friends, as well as experiencing the dangers, heartbreak and joys of being a teenager. We can relate – teenager or not – because we all remember having to navigate our way through life.  Its about learning how you, alone, are responsible for shaping your own destiny.

There are some excellent characters in the novel. My favourite is Natalie who I quite want to be my best friend. She is so loving, caring and really understands who she is.

Natalie is in my English class. She draws pictures on her arms. Not just normal hearts, but meadows with creatures and girls and trees that look like they are alive. She wears her hair in two brains that go down to her waist, and everything about her dark skin is perfectly smooth. Her eyes are two different colors – one is almost black, and the other is foggy green

They feel like real people. They are flawed and interesting, each with their own problems and insecurities. And you can’t help but break your heart for Laurel and all that she has to encounter at such a young age.

I don’t want to go in to too much detail as I don’t want to ruin it. I want you to read the book because it really is exceptional, and although, about halfway through the narrative, you have an inkling of what’s to come, the ultimate reveal will have you reaching for the tissues.

So go on. Give Love Letters a go. Give YA a go. Its a fantastic genre and you don’t know what you’re missing.

Oh, and I’ve heard that Fox 2000 have just optioned the book as a film so waterproof mascara at the ready!

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