Love Letters to the Dead
May 1st 2014
Hot Key Books
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. Soon Laurel is writing letters to lots of dead people - Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Amelia Earhart... it's like she can't stop. And she'd certainly never dream of handing them in to her teacher. 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. A lyrical, haunting and stunning debut from the protégé of Stephen Chbosky (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER).
I don't really know what I thought about Love Letters to the Dead. I think I liked it? I definitely liked some aspects of it. But I think that some of it didn't quite work for me. It is, however, a lovely debut with a powerful story at its heart.
I think for me the main downfall of Love Letters was that it was too similar to Perks of Being a Wallflower. When I first saw Stephen Chbosky's quote on the book and the comparisons to Perks, I was so excited to read it, but it really did just kind of feel like Perks only set today and with a female narrator. Similarities between books are fine, but this just felt too much and in my opinion it didn't do the book any favours. Also, the voice was a little off for me, too. The narrator, Laurel, is 14/15 during the book, and I think that has a lot to do with why it felt to me like the voice was somewhere between MG and YA. At times she sounded younger than she was and others she sounded a lot older and more mature and I guess that's just part of the book, but it kind of annoyed me how it wouldn't settle. Again, though, that's just kind of a personal quibble.
I do, however, like epistolary novels so I enjoyed the fact that the whole book was written in letters, and I liked the way in which the people she wrote to and their situations reflected what Laurel was talking about, and how her emotional arc was explored throughout her time writing the letters. It's a really good way to talk about grief, I think, because a lot of the time when you're hurting it's a lot easier to share your pain with people who won't actually talk back. Plus I enjoyed the way in which the mystery behind May's death and what happened to Laurel was slowly revealed over the course of the novel. I especially think that having Laurel write to dead celebrities was an effective way to tell the story.
The actual story itself was also pretty powerful, and it tackles some difficult subjects. I appreciated this about the book, but I didn't necessarily enjoy it. That being said, I did find it a very emotional read and I cried a couple of times, so it definitely got to me somehow... And I liked the characters, too, and I thought that the romance between Laurel and Sky was sweet and really well done. Also, I liked the fact that it took place over the whole of her freshman year. I know that that's another similarity with Perks, but it's one that I thought worked really well for the book and getting to see the whole of Laurel's arc.
Contrary to how this review might sound, I did enjoy Love Letters to the Dead. I think I just expected to love it more than I actually did, which has probably affected my opinion of it some. Plus I read the book, like, 3 weeks ago and my memory is pretty shit so I've probably missed a load of things out. That's what happens when you're too lazy to write book reviews for fun, guys. I should probably take notes or something. Sorry. This is meant to be about the book. Yes! It's good!
(PS SORRY FOR NOT BLOGGING FOR LIKE TWO WEEKS GUYS I'LL EXPLAIN IN A BLOG POST BUT BASICALLY TV SHOWS AND TEENAGE LAZINESS THAT'S WHY SEE YOU SOON)