Love Letters to the Dead - Ava Dellaira

March 20, 2014

Love Letters to the Dead - Ava Dellaira
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Farrar, Strous & Giroux (BYR)
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Source/Format: Publisher (Thanks Ksenia!) || ARC
[I received this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my review.]

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.


One of the truths I know well is that sometimes, it’s easier to tell your story when you’re telling it to someone else. In Love Letters to the Dead, Laurel winds up doing precisely that for readers. It begins as her completing an assignment for English class, but morphs into Laurel telling her story through her letters to the dead. Through this beautifully written, epistolary novel, author Ava Dellaira brings us the story of a girl – one full of tragedy and secrets, but also full of love and hope.

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to sharing the deep love I have for Love Letters to the Dead. It sounded like a great premise for a contemporary novel, which is why I was eager to read it. But nothing could have prepared me for how it swept me up in the current of its story, keeping me unsettled and compelled until the serenity with which it ends.

Laurel is easy to like, a main character that my heart instantly went out to. Her life has been touched by tragedy many times, but there’s still a glimmer of hopefulness and joy and wonder that exists in her spirit. It was a pleasure seeing Laurel weaving her own experiences amidst her commentary on the person she’s writing to, and done so well that it felt truly organic.

Each letter revealed a part of the puzzle piece that was Laurel’s story. Readers get glimpses of her family (torn apart by tragedy), her friends (some old, some new, but all incredibly complex presences) and romance (with a boy who I couldn’t help but love like Laurel did).

But more than that, Laurel talks about her sister May, exposing their relationship and her memories candidly. Even though May is gone, she felt so alive because of Laurel’s recollections of her and their relationship. I love that Dellaira was able to accomplish this and to the point where I really felt like I knew May the way as Laurel did.

The novel did have moments where the story dragged a bit, as Laurel was suspended in a period where she was consumed with romance and friendship. But the beautiful writing, and the gripping need to discover Laurel’s secret, certainly kept me turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning.

Love Letters to the Dead drew me in entirely. I have mostly good things to say about this debut, which left me deeply moved and hopeful, and with plenty of marked passages to revisit and savor again and again. It’s definitely one of the novels I’ve read this year that will stay with me, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

If you were going to write a love letter to someone dead, who would it be?

It took me a long, long time to decide who I would write to, since a few options (Joan of Arc, Anne Boleyn, my grandfather, Jane Austen) presented themselves to me right away. But after taking some time to think about it, I'd love to write a letter to William Shakespeare. I've read a lot of his work in the past, even though it was never asked of me. I would love to mention how his writing is inspiring, the things that he's inspired are amazing and perhaps even get some advice (or fun tidbits) about his works. Perhaps, in writing to him, I'd be able to tap into his writing and storytelling skills? One can dream, I suppose.

56 comments

  1. A lovely review, Alexa! There's such truth in your first sentence. I can definitely see why Laurel started writing the letters, and many of the recipients are people I thought about at her age too. I don't know if it's because she seemed so authentic to me, but I've had such trouble finishing this book. Not because I don't like it, but because it's completely depressed me. Something about it seems so melancholy! I know it's a grief book, but the entire tone is so sad. I just want to give Laurel a hug. I'm stalled out in the 150 range, but I need to pick it up again soon!

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  2. This book sounds so good! And what a beautifully written review, Alexa! And I love your Friends With ARCs feature! Such a great idea! Hmm, if I was going to write a love letter to someone dead, I'd probably write it to my grandmother. I miss her so much! And I'd love to get a letter from her! I'd also love to get a letter from her mother, my great-grandmother, because when she died I was so sorry that I hadn't gotten to know her better. She lived for almost all of the 20th century, and I can imagine that she would have some wonderful stories to tell! Great review, Alexa, and I can't wait to read this book!

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  3. Laurel sounds like an amazing character who I think I'll love just as much as you. The idea of letters is so cool! I've only read a handful of this style and I've loved everyone one of them. Anyway, great review!

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  4. This seems to be a very promising review for a book I've been impatient to read… Can't wait.

    Keep up the good work, Alexa! ^^

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  5. This sounds really good! I will have to add it to my never ending list!

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  6. Awww that's so great! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one so much! I have to admit that some of the hype got to me on this book but I did still enjoy it. The beginning was kind of hard for me and the second half picked up, but part of it was that sections of it were just not "me".
    Great review! Loved seeing your joy of reading this one! :)

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  7. I still need to read this one! Been anxious to for quite a while. As for writing letters... I'd say my uncle first mostly because there are things I'd want to tell him. But someone I've never met, Joan Crawford. Don't ask me why. :)

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