Published by Macmillan Children's Publishing Group on 1 April 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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.
*I received a free ARC of Love Letters to the Dead from Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group via Netgalley in exchange of an honest review*
Love Letters to the Dead is a beautifully written story about fifteen-year-old Laurel, and all her guilt and grief after her sister’s death. When her English teacher in High School asks the class to write a letter to a dead personality in the first class, Laurel promptly starts writing to Kurt Cobain, but she never hands the assignment in. Instead, she keeps that one notebook and writes letters to other deceased people who feel familiar to her as well. And her letters are extremely personal, filled with emotions, soul-searching, and a way to cope with not having May with her anymore.
Losing her sister is not the only thing that is hard to deal with for Laurel, her parents have been divorced for a while, so she is used to switching houses every week. However, last summer, her mom up and left for California, leaving Laurel behind, and now she lives one week with her dad, and the next with her very religious aunt Amy. New school, new friends, trying to fit in and emanating May’s light is a lot of hard work! And Love Letters to the Dead is written almost diary-style, but with real people – albeit dead – the imaginary recipients of Laurel’s inner musings.
I loved the writing in Love Letters to the Dead, because even if Laurel shares a lot of herself in her letters, there are gaps that need to be filled out as well. And the readers learn little by little what happened the night May died, and also why Laurel feels so guilty about it. The only negative thing I have to say about the whole story is that Laurel felt older and wiser than fifteen years. I know that grief can make a person grow up very quickly, but she and her friends do not seem like the fifteen-year-olds I know. This did not in any way take away from the story, though, and many things that came to light are important questions for all teenagers, and for those of us who are not longer teens as well.
Little by little, Laurel understands that her letters is working the way therapy might for her. She is able to think about May, about her parents splitting up, and other things she has been through by writing letters to wounded souls that are no longer of this world. The pace is pretty slow, even if the story covers several months, and I think this is one of the reasons why I enjoyed reading Love Letters to the Dead so much. Baring her soul to Kurt, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart and Jim Morrison to name a few, Laurel manages to understand her own feelings about many things a lot better than she did before. And it is possible to see the growth she makes as a character because of the subjects she is covering in her letters.
A very different coming of age story, where the protagonist solves a lot of her problems through introspection, Love Letters to the Dead is very sad in places, and I definitely shed more than a few tears. However, all through the story I had this feeling that everything would turn out well for Laurel, and I was able to enjoy all the changes she made in her life, both with the help of her friends, and the dead people she wrote her letters to. With her deep thoughts about humanity, being young, and dealing with adversity, Laurel has a great head on her shoulders, and through the heartache, I also somehow felt comforted.
I wish you could tell me where you are now. I mean, I know you’re dead, but I think there must be something in a human being that can’t just disappear. It’s dark out. You’re out there. Somewhere, somewhere. I’d like to let you in.
I thought of you, watching the earth always changing from above. The tall grass swaying. The rivers like long fingers and the fog from the sea sucking up the shore. And how, when you disappeared down there, you must have become a part of it.
I go back to black, you sang. The swinging rhythms of the song sounded bright, but there was a hurt in your voice, under its honey – although it’s not as simple as that, really. You had a way of singing that could mix together so many feelings. And I could tell that the words you sang came out of the real you. They were true.