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Book Review – Love Letters to the Dead By Ava Dellaira

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As an adult, I’ve never read anything even slightly related to the YA genre. Generally it’s not really my thing. But when I was browsing new releases this book caught my eye…and I thought now was as good as a time as any to give it a whirl.

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.

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The whole book is broken up into Laurel’s letters to the dead rather than chapters. It’s an interesting way to narrate a story. Within these letters we get telling of events and also insight into Laurels feelings and thoughts. It’s a fine line to tread with this style, between making sure the writing doesn’t stray too far from being a letter and also being able to tell the story and keep up the pace. Mostly I feel the author does a really good job of balancing the two. I did especially enjoy how often Laurel would relate what was going on in her world to what happened to the respective celebrity she was writing about at the time. Especially poignant were some of the letters to Kurt Cobain where she discusses him leaving his daughter and his reasons and how she feels as a daughter who’s been left.

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There are plenty of topics covered here that today’s teenagers/tweens could identify with. Apart from the focus on grief, there is everything from wagging and trying to fit in, to underage drinking and a (quite uncomfortable) sexual undercurrent in parts. The author really does seem to ‘get’ teenage angst. And this book is most certainly angsty, obviously because of the story for a start it needs to be angsty, but there is also a certain type of angst that comes alone with being a teen and you definitely get a decent dose of this here. Laurel spends pretty much the whole book breaking my heart. No thirteen year old deserves even a fraction of what life has thrown at her. So many times she makes me want to throw my overprotective mother coat over her and just hug her forever. I am a mother of two very young boys and while reading Laurel talking about how she would do anything to have a relationship with her older sister I am mindful of the sibling dynamic that maybe as adult we forget about all too quickly. How a younger sibling can idolize the older one. How the dynamic of siblings can change when one hits adolescence, how the younger one would do anything to get to spend time with them like they did when they were kids, but ultimately how they’re too young to really see the teenage life for what it is.

I’m most certainly not a teenager, I can only recall what life was like as a teen and imagine how it would be these days for these kids. I imagine though that this book does quite a good job of covering topics that are applicable to this age group, as well as having the plotline that would keep them reading. As my first YA read I don’t think I could’ve picked a better book. It really had me thinking (and still does) and I’m not even the target audience! I was surprised and impressed that people like Kurt Cobain and bands like Guns n Roses still get mentioned in today’s teenage culture? Is this actually a thing? I hope so, because in my opinion they are timeless and in some ways it makes this story more relatable to oldies like me!

I don’t know if I’ll read another YA for a while. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book, because I really did, but because that was quite a lot of teenage drama to digest for a non-teenager. It made me a bit sad when I realized that through the book I was thinking more like a parent than a teen! So it really illustrated that I have most certainly moved past this demographic, no matter (Much to my horror) how immature I feel! If you like the YA genre then definitely give this a whirl, it’s a really well thought out and well executed read. Tough, but good.

Love Letters to the Dead

By Ava Dellaira

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