ARC Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

ARC Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Love Letters to the Dead
by Ava Dellaira

Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Publication date: April 1st, 2014
by Farrar Straux and Giroux

Format: eARC

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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. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven't forgiven?

It's not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally 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 truly start to discover her own path.

In a voice that's as lyrical and as true as a favorite song, Ava Dellaira writes about one girl's journey through life's challenges with a haunting and often heartbreaking beauty. .

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

“There are some things I can’t tell anyone, except the people who aren’t here anymore”

This is honestly a very hard book to review. It brought out a lot of mixed feelings in me. I went back and forth between being pissed and loving the book and it wasn’t until the 3rd third that I decided that this book was wonderful. A warning though, if you don’t like drama, avoid this. This is filled with teenage angst and teenage angst can sometimes induce nightmares about how much high school sucked (or well I still have 3 more months of that nightmare left) but in spite of everything this book turned out to be so beautiful.

It tells a tale of loss and how to deal with it. It deals with how we sometimes build people up to be these perfect untouchable things in our minds and don’t want to believe that they aren’t that perfect  because they become our rocks. It tells a story about learning to accept yourself and it’s a tale about forgiveness.

Laurel is starting high school at a school where she doesn’t know anyone. She didn’t go to the same school as everyone else in her 8th grade because she didn’t want to go to the same high school her sister, May, went to. At the start of this novel, Laurel is drowning in grief and guilt. She believes that her sister died because of her. When her teacher gives them an assignment which asks them to write a letter to dead person, she chooses to write a letter to her sister’s favorite artist, Kurt Cobain.

Laurel is such a heart breaking character. She has an innocence to her which makes you want to wrap your arms around her and never let go.  She is such a complex character and you really feel for her. She comes from a broken family. Her parents aren’t bad but divorce has a way of tearing families apart and it tore hers too. She doesn’t fit in and she doesn’t know how to fit in. She is stuck in a world without her sister and she doesn’t know how to carry on so when her English teacher gives her the assignment, she finds a way to pour out her feelings. She has someone to talk to, someone who won’t judge her.

But the author doesn’t just stop there; she develops a wonderful entourage of secondary characters. From Hannah to Natalie to Kristen to Tristan to Sky you cannot help but fall in love with each of them. There is so much depth to all of these characters and all of them break your heart in some capacity.

“We were here. Our lives matter.”

My favorite bit about this book however was how the author brought all our beloved celebrities/idols to life in her work. My heart broke for them. She made their stories come to life and it really just broke my heart all over again. She does it so beautifully too. This woman is so GODDAMN TALENTED.

The romance was well developed. Sky is a sweet love interest. He pulls some jerk moves but his reasons are so realistic that you cannot help but forgive him. He doesn’t want to be with someone who is drowning in grief because he cannot do anything about it. She won’t tell him how he can help and you can understand his choices because it’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love drown in grief and not be able to do anything about it. It hurts you almost as much as the person who is hurting and honestly, I don’t blame Sky. There were some things Laurel needed to realize on her own and until she did so, there relationship could not have worked.

This is a very character driven book because at its heart, it’s a coming of age story and we join Laurel in her journey. A lot of the people she writes to died tragic deaths, from Kurt Cobain to Jim Morrison to Heath Ledger to Amy Winehouse etc. Some of them took their own lives, some of them died of drug overdose and some of them just never made it back. While writing to these various people, she grows and she learns that not everything is perfect. Her sister wasn’t perfect. All these wonderful people weren’t perfect either and so the healing starts. Laurel has to learn to forgive herself and her sister but she also needs to realize that she doesn’t need to be perfect. She can be broken and really all she needs is to be herself.

With all that said one of the biggest draw backs of this story for me as a reader was the fact that the character was in 9th grade. 9th grade is a very awkward time because you’re just starting high school but at the same time you’ve just left middle school so you’re right hovering on the fence between becoming a young adult and starting your journey to becoming an adult. The problem with this is that it contradicts the essence of Laurel’s character. Laurel comes off to me as a very naïve person. She is very innocent but then she is thrust into very mature situations and I am not sure what to make of that. It’s like the author couldn’t decide what she wanted so she mashed the two together and well the result wasn’t all that enjoyable. Perhaps if this book had been one or the other, an MG or with a character who was not ‘just’ starting high school, it would have been more favorable. For example, Saving June dealt with something similar and because of the age of the main character the book was a lot easier to swallow.

Having said that, this book really was touching. I don’t know what it’s like to lose someone but the grief in this book is so profound that I know that I don’t want to know. This book really is powerful and I am definitely going to be on the look-out for other works by the author.

Note that all quotes have been taken from an uncorrected proof and may be subject to change.

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Rashika

Rashika is a mysterious creature who likes to hide in the shadows. It's impossible to get to know her but if you must know, she is a huge bookworm. She also happens to have a huge sweet tooth so you can always lure her over the dark side by offering her something sweet (or bribing her with books).

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    • Rashika says

      Aww I am sorry you didn’t enjoy Saving June. It wasn’t a 5 star read but I did enjoy that one a lot.

      I hope this one works better for you!

  1. says

    I’ve been reading a lot of positive reviews about this lately. I was actually just thinking how majority of a reader’s opinion of a book comes from a main character’s likability and how one can empathize with a character even when you haven’t actually experienced what they are experiencing. I’m glad this book was successful at this, I think its very tough to make a character driven book work. I’m very curious about this book but I will definitely keep in mind that it has a lot of teenage angst stemming from high school when I read it. I’m not a big fan of that either. Great review Rashika!
    Amir recently posted…Audiobook Review: Unearthly by Cynthia HandMy Profile

    • Rashika says

      I am more of a plot person so it definitely makes a character driven book harder to enjoy but some authors can pull it off and just sweep you along for the ride.. :)

      High school is scary and teenagers even more so .-.

      Thanks Amir!

    • Rashika says

      YAY for graduating! Surprisingly my 9th grade year wasn’t nearly as awkward as it could have been. 6th grade was a hella more awkward though *shudders*. NOT AGAIN. NEVER again :P

  2. says

    i had no idea the protagonist was so young! 9th grade is younger than I’m comfortable with, but all things considered, I think I’ll enjoy this nevertheless.
    I don’t doubt for a second that the story is very touching, and as a huge fan of so many, if not all of these artists, I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy that part very much.
    It’s coming up on my schedule next week, so I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
    Lovely review!

    • Rashika says

      I didn’t realize 9th grade was something that wouldn’t sit that well with me until after I had started the book so I am pretty sure I am going to be avoiding books with kids starting high school (even if this one worked out well).

      I actually didn’t know quite a few of those people, I’ve heard of them but I don’t ‘know’ them but I didn’t feel all that left out, which is kind of odd but that’s just a point for the author.

      YAYY!!! I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.

      Thanks Maja! :)

  3. says

    Death and loss, it changes you :] I lost a very good friend when I was 16, she was 15. I only got over it after a few years into college. I haven’t read drama books in a long time, so I’m not going to read this either. Thirteen Reasons Why being an exemption because I didn’t read the blurb, I just bought it off the shelf. But this does seem like a heavy drama. It seems like too much to experience at your coming of age. :(
    Goldie recently posted…Review: Don’t Even Think About ItMy Profile

    • Rashika says

      I am so sorry for your loss Goldie. :/ I cannot even imagine how much that must have heard.

      I totally understand why you would skip this because I’ve done similar things with other ‘sub-genres’.

      It does have a lot of drama so yeah.. and I agree with you.. it WAS a lot to experience at her coming of age. :/

  4. says

    This book really did make me reach for tissues. Lots. I’ve dealt with grief 3 times in the past 2 years, so it did trigger a lot of memories and feelings. I get what you said about Laurel’s age, but given that she not only dealt with grief, but also with the loss of her innocence, that I think her age didn’t matter, because somehow those experiences did mature her. Lovely review, Rashika!
    Dre @ Sporadic Reads recently posted…Book Review 140 : Words of Radiance by Brandon SandersonMy Profile

    • Rashika says

      DRE! I AM SO SORRY! That is HORRIBLE!

      They definitely matured her but I always felt like it contradicted the innocence that seemed to pour out of her because to me she was a mature character but she also had a naivety about her which made her age harder to swallow. It just made you want to wrap her up in a blanket and just hug her.

  5. says

    This sounds like a wonderful, complex book, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it so much Rashika! I love your description of how the author writes such complex, engaging characters.
    My favorite bit about this book however was how the author brought all our beloved celebrities/idols to life in her work. My heart broke for them. She made their stories come to life and it really just broke my heart all over again.I’m so glad all the side characters worked for you as well!

    Definitely going to have to pick this one up when it releases. It sounds heartbreaking and beautiful, and I can’t wait to dive into Laurel’s story. As always, brilliant review Rashika and thanks so much for sharing! :D
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    • Rashika says

      I think it works for some books and it doesn’t work for others. I definitely love books that start of slow and then speed up. :D (is that off topic??)

      I don’t listen to audio books but I think this one would definitely be good on audio because.. I don’t know… I just imagine that it would be wonderful if they pulled it off! :)

    • Rashika says

      AWWWW
      THANKS JESSICA!!

      I am not brave enough to read such sad books either! I usually avoid them… and my sad book quota for the next couple of months has been completed.. :P
      Although I have to say, you’re not missing anything by not having read TFiOS (unless you want to see the movie) :P

  6. says

    Oh shit. I haven’t really gotten deep into what this book is about, but sounds like one of the most awful situations to find oneself in :( I’m so glad you found Laurel to be a good MC to follow the story with. I’m so intrigued about the letters and all. Hmm, the opposite natures in Laurel’s personality what with naivety and maturity may be a tad confusing yes, but I guess that’s one of the things you go through in teenage years, right? Anyhow, I’m so happy you enjoyed:)
    Siiri recently posted…Review: Pivot Point by Kasie WestMy Profile

    • Rashika says

      It gets even worse the more you learn about her and she’s like so YOUNG. It’s heartbreaking.

      Teenage years are confusing. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt (#bookreference).

  7. says

    This was such a sad book. When Laurel was writing about herself, I really liked the book, but I wasn’t crazy about the parts where she talked to the people she was writing letters to about their lives because I either a) knew about their lives or b) wasn’t that interested and just wanted to read the main story. If that makes sense…

    • Rashika says

      That definitely makes sense. It just worked for me because I was so swept up in the emotion and it broke my heart. I had to tape the thing back together! useless heart.. always breaking *rolls eyes*

    • Rashika says

      I feel you Cait. I really do. I need to get a hold over myself because otherwise I won’t have time to reading anything else which kind of sucks. But I WILL be going on a break from Netgalley and Edelweiss soon so that should fix that problem.

      I hope you love it whenever you get around to reading it! :)

  8. says

    Great review, Rashika! Lauren @ Love is Not a Triangle kindly sent me an ARC copy, so I should be reading this soon. The “teenage angst” bit scares me, because too much of that gets my blood boiling. But I love the idea behind this and I hope I can connect to it as much as you did. :)
    Danielle @ Love at First Page recently posted…Review: PanicMy Profile

    • Rashika says

      Teenage angst scares everyone (the same way teenagers do.. with the exception of the (mostly) wonderful teenagers of the internet).

      I really hope you enjoy this Danielle!!! :)

    • Rashika says

      I despise teenage angst as well but somehow it worked in this one.. of course, that completely depends on the reader but yeah.
      Thanks Marianne!! :)

    • Rashika says

      I don’t like high school melodrama either. Living it is enough for the most part :P
      Thank you so much Joy!! :)

  9. says

    Well, this one sure sounds like one I could get into. Contemporaries like this one (the more serious ones focusing on some sort of issue, like death and grief) are my favorites. I love the character growth that the main characters go through, and Laurel’s journey seems like one I would like to read about. Another great review, Rashika!
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    • Rashika says

      I like fluffy contemporaries more than sad ones which is why I don’t read them all that often. I really do hope you enjoy this Kaitlin! :)

      Thanks! :)