Book Review: 'Love Letters to the Dead' by Ava Dellaira
The structure of this novel alone immediately drew me in. I’ve never read a book that consists entirely of letters rather than chapters, but even so, the story flowed perfectly. I love how the series of letters turned into a slow healing process for Laurel. Even though I was never really drawn to her character, I was still touched by Laurel’s ability to connect her own feelings and struggles with the lives of the famous people she wrote to (some of the transitions were awkward, but not awkward enough to turn me off). Another thing that I loved about this book was how Laurel’s passion for poetry helped her cope. Her interpretations were incredibly insightful and the way that she applied each message to her own life was really impressive.
While I understood the pain that Laurel went through, I didn't take a liking to her character. I tried to be easy on her because she was in a tough place, but what really irked me the most was her desperation to be just like her sister May. May was only a pretty and popular young girl who tried to act twice her age and got drunk all the time. To make matters even worse, she used to leave Laurel alone with a complete stranger during their “movie nights” together, just to hook up with a man who was probably twice her age (What sane teenager leaves her little sister alone at night with a grown man that she doesn’t even know???).
For these reasons, it took me a while to understand why Laurel would ever attempt to become May. It seemed like she was loyal to a fault. But then I realized that Laurel loved her sister unconditionally, despite all her flaws. I saw how incomplete Laurel felt without her sister there, and I could see that the pain of her loss was more than she could bear. It got so bad that just the thought of May would shut her off completely and affect her judgment. So as a way of ignoring the pain, she tried to start a new life with new people. She tried to fill the emptiness of May’s absence all on her own.
Regarding the other characters in the novel, Sky and Aunt Amy are the only ones who stood out for me. Neither is perfect, but I could tell that deep down, they’re both great people. Sky is the type who hides his vulnerability for the sake of his public image, but his intentions are good. I could tell that he really cared for Laurel, but there were times when I felt so sorry for him because of what Laurel put him through. She was in no condition to maintain a healthy relationship because she was broken beyond repair over May’s death. She never opened up to Sky about May, which only made him feel helpless and confused. So while he did seem cruel and heartless after their break up, he had legitimate reasons to do so. I admired his honesty and his willingness to give Laurel a second chance, even when he knew that Laurel was still struggling.
Aunt Amy, on the other hand, came off as the “Jesus freak” of the bunch, but I saw so much more in her. Through Lauren’s eyes, she seemed over-protective and preachy, but I understood that she meant well. She really cared for Lauren and only wanted to look out for her, and I could tell that she relied heavily on her faith too, as a result of her own suffering. She needed something to hold on to, and her belief in Christ was the main thing that kept her going.
Natalie, Hannah, Kristen, and Tristan were good characters as well. I admired their bond and how they supported Laurel, but if I had to choose a favorite among these four, then I would probably choose Tristan because his character is a bit more complex (At one moment he’s laid back and carefree, and the next he’s deep and surprisingly insightful). But regarding Natalie and Hannah, I could tell from the get-go that these two were head over heels for each other, and I felt for Natalie when Hannah went out on those dates. The way Hannah treated Natalie throughout most of the book was definitely a big turn-off, but it was heartwarming to see her put her fears behind and be with Natalie.
Of all the young adult books that I’ve read so far, this one definitely stands out. It’s not your typical feel-good romance story, but it’s more like a poignant tale about family, loss, friendship, and courage. It’s also about self-acceptance because while writing those letters, Laurel didn't just find her voice, but she also found herself.
I would definitely recommend this book to any reader who enjoys contemporary, teen-angst, drama or romance novels.