Review: Love Letters to the Dead

Author: Ava Dellaira

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Pages: 327

Format: Paperback


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. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven?

It’s not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally 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 truly start to discover her own path.

In a voice that’s as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl’s journey through life’s challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty.

My review:

Letters. Dead people.

The above words were enough to drag my attention to this book. Love Letters to the Dead, is in its own way, intriguing. Several questions run through your mind, possible answers to what the book could be about. I was shaken a bit after I completed this novel and I have all the praises in store for the author, Ava Dellaira.

“I think a lot of people want to be someone, but we are scared that if we try, we won’t be as good as everyone imagines we could be.”

The story is about a teenage girl, Laurel, who started writing letters to dead people as part of her English assignment. This routine assessment turns into a heart-wrenching series of emotions that the protagonist goes through. Her daily struggles, her mindset and everything else that happens in her life. Laurel started writing letters everyday and soon found parts of herself that she never knew existed. Those letters gave her comfort and she could confide in them. She never turned in those assignments.

“I know I wrote letters to people with no address on this earth, I know that you are dead. But I hear you. I hear all of you. We were here. Our lives matter.”

The death of someone you love changes you. You suddenly become a different person. You outgrow people and things but most importantly you outgrow yourself. Through these letters, Laurel finds an outlet where she expresses her innermost feelings that have been bottled up for quiet sometime. We see how slowly the letters unravel parts of her life and bring us to a tear-jerking past.

Each chapter has been written as a form of letter. That in itself is great writing. Having the ability to keep the readers’ hooked is a talent very few have mastered and Ava Dellaira is one of them. The book is profound, contemplative and powerful. It is a sad story no doubt but also moving in several ways. It showcases the eternal sister-love, the intense need to protect each other against all odds and longing to be with one another. The story is narrated skillfully weaving different aspects of the human nature and the naivety of adolescence.

“You think you know someone, but that person always changes, and you keep changing, too. I understood it suddenly, how that’s what being alive means. Our own invisible plates shifting inside of our bodies, beginning to align into the people we are going to become.”

There are parts that are slow but even in those moments you’ll find a sense of anger, pain and abandonment that the protagonist undergoes. I was utterly upset with the ending but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The characters in the story seem real, each struggling differently, trying to figure out life.

“Sometimes when we say things, we hear silence. Or only echoes. Like screaming from inside. And that’s really lonely. But that only happens when we weren’t really listening. It means we weren’t ready to listen yet. Because every time we speak, there is a voice. There is the world that answers back.”

The coping mechanism one one uses after they lose someone they so dearly love is confusing and haunting. The ways in which they try to fill the void, to overcome the heart-break which ultimately leads to a sense of detachment from the world.  This aspect of bewilderment has been beautifully captured by the author.

“We do things sometimes because we feel so much inside of us, and we don’t notice how it affects somebody else.”

If you’re looking for a book that would stay with you for the years to come, I’d highly recommend reading this book.

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira is worth a read. Painful yet beautiful.

“I think it’s like when you lose something so close to you, it’s like losing yourself. That’s why at the end, it’s hard for her to write even. She can hardly remember how. Because she barely knows what she is anymore.”

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