Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Synopsis via 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.
*Publisher approved my request via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I thought the overall premise of this book was different, if not unique. I haven't read a novel written as letters to fallen entertainers before, so I was particularly intrigued. To keep things honest though, I didn't connect with Laurel right-away, but as I continued to read and learn more about her, I grew to like her.
Laurel is this young girl with a lot of internal issues. She'd experienced a few horrible events and that hindered her mental growth in my opinion. She was extremely close to her older sister; looked up to her, aspired to be like her. Throughout the book you get a sense of their connection because all she talks about is how great May was. It did annoy me at times, but I tried to understand Laurel's mindset and who she was as a person, which was hurt, and she drowned herself in guilt that she shouldn't be feeling, but continued to because of what happened to May. Her sorrow is justified. She lost someone she loved dearly and now had to go on without her. I'd be the same if I was in her shoes, in fact, I'd gotten so into the story that I started to feel what she was going through
The author didn't give us much as to why Laurel blamed herself for May's death until further down, but I liked how she held my interest. Laurel was writing about her everyday life (starting high school, finding new friends, developing a romance, missing her mother and feeling guilty about her absence as well, and also with going back and forth from her Aunt's place to her dad's) to people like Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. I liked her outlook on certain things, how she approached these celebrities in an open-mind. It was all thought-provokingly well written.
Other things I enjoyed was the interpretation of songs, and the value of music in Laurel's life pertaining to her sister, among other things. I also liked the blossoming romance with Sky, and the fact that he let her go and returned to her was so touching. Because its never easy for anyone to open up about the pain they're going through, and the tears they shed that leaves the outside world baffled. But I applauded Sky for finally getting it out of her, letting Laurel understand he cared about her and wanted her to know she could trust him.
Let's talk minor characters, which rarely weren't minor. I thought Natalie and Hannah were pretty strong contenders to be read as major protagonists because each had a lot going on throughout the story. Both had emotions that needed to be dealt with, and Hannah had an oppressor she needed to get away from. As for Aunt Amy, the religious relative, I saw her intentions and how she wanted to keep Laurel from harm. At times Laurel was overwhelmed, but she never spoke up about it until towards the end. That's the kind of person she was, never really speaking her mind, only keeping things inside. And that's another problem caused by the guilt she felt. Laurel admired her sister so much it seemed she lived in her shadow and didn't really have a life of her own.
Laurel's mom seemed like a trip to me. For the most part, she was in the story by phone calls, and each time she came, I was annoyed with her. Like Laurel, I thought she abandoned her daughter because she couldn't handle what happened to May. Basically, she ran away from her issues instead of working on them, good thing Laurel started to express her feelings. As a result, her mom made the decision to return home and cope with it. The dad was all right. He didn't grab as much as I'd like him to, but his character was nice having around.
In the end, I liked how the story wrapped up, with May's death being explained, and why Laurel felt guilty about it. The reader finally gets to learn about the devastating experience she'd been through. And I believe, in letting it all out, Laurel finally stopped living like her sister and started to live for herself.
Like I said, Love Letters to the Dead is well written, different, intriguing, captivating, you name it. It's really worth the read. A brilliant debut from a talented author. Can't wait to read her next novel.
Ava Dellaira is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She believes this book began when she bought her second album ever—Nirvana’s In Utero—which she listened to on repeat while filling the pages of her journal. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California, where she works in the film industry and is writing her second novel.