Title: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Genre: Family/Coming of Age/Romance
Review: The first thing I notice about Love Letters to the Dead while randomly flicking through its pages was it is an epistolary novel, I can honestly say the only other book I have read in this format is The Color Purple by Alice Walker and I loved that so I had high hopes for this book before I even starting reading it. Our protagonist Laurel write letter to dead famous people including Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse to name a few who all died young like Laurel’s sister May. In these letters she writes about things she can’t voice especially concerning her sister. It struck me that Laurel doesn’t really write about her sisters’ death but more about the memories they made when she was alive, memories which no one talks about any more. I loved learning more about Laurel as she writes the letters. She makes her first high school friends, she talks to Sky – the guy she has a crush on and for the first time since her sisters’ death life looks bright but it overshadowed by sadness; her parents’ divorce, her mother moving away, the reminders of her sister everywhere and how she is constantly but unconsciously comparing herself to May.
I really enjoyed seeing the contrasts between home and school lives; at school she feels normal with her friends but at home with her dad and the constant absence of her mother she feels really alone and the only people she can talk to are the people she writes her letters to. Laurel clearly feels isolated even around her friends’ we see this very clearly at Natalie’s sleepover. As Laurel becomes more of teen trying her first cigarette and drink she starts to notice she looks a lot like May and memories of her constantly plague Laurel’s mind and she can’t seem to work out if these memories are good or bad and it confuses her but she bottles all her emotions up and tries to keep a happy façade for her dad and Aunt Amy. She also is moving towards a relationship with Sky but is scared as she has never been kissed before and is scared but she seems to think if May could do it so can she totally forgetting that her and May are completely different people. The writing style is totally unique and brilliantly done it allows us to delve deep into Laurel’s mind and completely understand everything she is thinking and feeling but I did feel we kind of lost the outside perspective a little and everything was solely focused on Laurel and the other characters then couldn’t develop as well as she did.
Laurel also begins to understand different sexualities especially through Hannah and Natalie who almost always kiss when they are drunk and Laurel can see Natalie loves Hannah and that they are soul mates just too scared to admit it to one another and although Hannah insists she joins in Laurel sees it as their private time and removes herself from those situations. At certain points in the novel I was really frustrated with Laurel comparing herself to May and I wanted to scream at her they were different people and should be leading different lives, but I understand that she was close to May and she got all her life advice for May so I understand her reasoning and that alone makes me less angry. I have also realised Laurel likes to observe other people and try to understand them. She understands why Hannah has several boyfriends at once as it is to make up for the lack of love and appreciation she doesn’t get from her grandparents or her brother. As her relationship with Sky progresses Laurels’ confidence grows even to the point where she can voice to her teacher the reasons why she didn’t turn in the letter assignment and she’s also able to tell her father that he should ask her mother to come home as she is at the time of her life where he father is no longer enough she needs her mothers’ influence and Aunt Amy just isn’t going to make the cut for that.
Laurel seems to be watching other people falling in love around her and she wants that so badly with Sky, but every time they get intimate in any sense Laurel disappears to a place in her mind when May was still alive and she’s confused because she doesn’t understand how to deal with these feelings. I also have a feeling that something happened between Sky and May as he doesn’t like talking about his older school or May. Sky sees something in Laurel that was also in May something that may ultimately lead to her demise as well and he’s not strong enough to do that again, but Laurel in her own rose-tinted world sees May as someone that can do no wrong, someone that is perfect but she knows nobody is perfect even her beloved May. After Sky withdraws himself from her, Laurel begins to contemplate what he meant about May which only adds to her confusion and with Sky gone she doesn’t have a human outlet for this confusion. I feel that her bottling up of her emotion with result in something disastrous whether it’s an outburst or something more is yet to be seen. As Laurel’s childhood world begins to shatter showing her the darker reality of adult life she feels confused, hurt and anger all at once. More than once she has put herself into dangerous situation purely because she is following how she feels. She also becomes more vocal voicing her thoughts to her mother about her leaving and how she feels but when this upset people she immediately retracts it and tries to make everything ok again, to make Ma and tries to make everything ok again, to make May fly again but somewhere in her heart she knows this can never be. We also learn May “fell” from an old railway bridge into the river and drown – I am unsure of whether she actually fell or whether this is Laurel’s way of disguising a suicide.
We learn of some of the things Laurel has kept hidden even from herself for the sake of keeping her sister, her family and her friends happy. For years she has been sacrificing her own happiness and childlike joy for the sake of those she cares about the most. Now she is at the point where it is breaking her the same way it did May and she can’t do it any longer. Laurel finally realises that she should have spoken out sooner about her abuse and she shouldn’t have told May in her fragile state but each can be forgiven for their mistakes. Laurel also opens up letting people heal her and she in return heals them, though those scars will never fully close together they can ease the pain of the other. The ending of this novel was happy, heartfelt and heart-breaking all at once and I could barely keep from crying as the whole family together finally says goodbye to May and each looks to move forward in their lives especially Laurel as through writing her letters she figures she wants to be a poet and the first poem she writes is for May. While I felt frustrated a certain points in the novel with Laurel as a characters I realised the author wanted this for the reader to feel how confused and frustrated Laurel was at herself, but I have a feeling she will turn out just fine and be better and stronger than May was or ever appeared to be.
This Book was sent to me for review by Bonnier Publishing
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