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 had been hearing the hype about this book and that always makes me both hesitant and excited to pick up a story, but I’m a sucker for epistolary works when they are done right and Love Letters to the Dead did not disappoint.
While the book started out a bit slow, I’m glad I stuck with it, because this book had so many elements to it that make a story stick in your head after you are done reading it that after a while, it was impossible to put down.
All of the characters really made the book for me. From Laurel, Sky and Hannah to Kurt Cobain and Heath Ledger, Dellaira’s ability to have such distinct characters and to bring tragically lost celebrities to life is truly a talent. Laurel is a complex character because she has that innocence that still lingers in the transition to high school, but has been through some tough life experiences including the death of her sister and the dissolve of her parents’ marriage so she has this depth, edge and darkness to her that makes her different from the average outsider going into their first year of high school.
And she is an outsider. She wants to fit in but doesn’t know who she is so doesn’t know how to even attempt to do so or who she wants to fit in with. After she gets the English assignment to write these letters, she finds this outlet and in doing so, discovers things about herself she wasn’t aware of. But, she also discovers things about her sister, and the celebrities she is writing to, that show her that things aren’t what they seem and nobody is perfect.
This book isn’t the type to have you smiling and gushing throughout. It is full of grief and depression and hard things. But it feels real and because of that, Laurel feels real. And her life feels real. And every time she falls and whether or not she gets back up begin to matter. And that isn’t easy to accomplish so I commend Dellaira for this.
If I hadn’t taught in a high school, I would’ve been put off by the situations that Laurel found herself in, but in The Perks of Being a Wallflower fashion, crazy things happen in high school. Even when you are fourteen. Even when you have a strong foundation, which Laurel definitely did not. Did I think Laurel was put through a lot? Yes. Did I think it was wholly unbelievable? Not completely.
I do recommend this book, but in doing so I understand it isn’t for everyone. It has the ability to tear you apart, but if you’re into that kind of thing, then definitely give this a try. Because after the last page is turned, this quote is what stood out to me and what I think puts the heart back into a heart-wrenching book:
“We were here. Our lives matter.”