Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Format: Paperback / eBook
Released: May 1st, 2014
It begins as an assignment for English class: write a letter to a dead person - any dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain - he died young, and so did Laurel's sister May - so maybe he'll understand a bit of what Laurel is going through. She writes about what it's like going to a new high school, meeting new friends, falling in love for the first time - and how her family has shattered since May died. But much as Laurel might find writing the letters cathartic, she can't keep real life out forever. The ghosts of her past won't be contained between the lines of a page, and she will have to come to terms with growing up, the agony of losing a beloved sister, and the realisation that only you can shape your destiny.
This is a book I've been looking forward to for a while. I love the cover and the idea of writing letters to dead celebrities, reviews have been pretty positive and it's also been optioned for film. What could go wrong? Well, nothing as such, but for me Love Letters to the Dead just didn't live up to its hype.
The premise is an usual one, with fourteen-year-old Laurel writing letters to dead famous people, like River Phoenix, Heath Ledger and Amy Winehouse. She tells them about her life, her older sister May's death, and how she's coping. It all starts as a class assignment, but Laurel continues it for a year, kind of like her own personal therapy. At first I liked this unusual way of telling a story, but by the end I'd had enough and was struggling to understand the point of Laurel writing to all these dead people. It did help her though, so whatever she got from it obviously worked.
One of my main problems with this book was Laurel being so young. She writes and talks as if she's older, she acts older and partakes in activities that I just can't see a fourteen-year-old doing. Maybe it's just me getting old (ha!) but this bothered me all the way through the book. Making her sixteen would have made such a huge difference in her characterisation and why she was doing what she was doing, but at fourteen it just seemed too unrealistic to me. Aside from that I liked her enough, though she's not one who made a huge impression on me.
Love Letters to the Dead deals with a lot of emotions, including grief, love and loss. It tries to do a lot all at once - maybe too much - and for me it fell a little flat. Unfortunately I didn't strongly connect with any of the characters, though I did enjoy Dellaira's lyrical writing. There are some beautiful passages in this book, some that I've since gone back and read again, and I can see why people are excited about this new author.
Overall, Love Letters to the Dead didn't capture me like I hoped it would, though I'm glad I read it and discovered the writing talents of Ava Dellaira. Recently I seem to have found solace in fictional books about grief and loss - they're reminding me that I'm not alone and that other people have, and will, go through the same things as me. Love Letters to the Dead helped me in that way but it's a shame I didn't like it more than I did. Don't let this review put you off, though - meet Laurel and find out for yourself whether this is the book for you.