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Estelle: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Love Letters to the DeadLove Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pages: 323
Format read: Young adult
Keywords: siblings, death, depression, celebrity deaths, friendship, romance
Format read: ARC from Publisher via NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Summary:  Six months after the death of her beloved older sister, May, Laurel is starting a new school and alternating between living with her father and her aunt. An English assignment to write a letter to a dead person has Laurel penning a note to Kurt Cobain, a favorite of her sister’s, and the letters morph into greater meaning. As she comes to terms with life without May, she shares new experiences, her innermost secrets, and thoughts with this group of deceased famous figures (as well as dissecting their own lives and demises).

Love Letters to the Dead reminded me of why I loved last year’s Wild Awake and classic Perks of Being a Wallflower so much: the ultimate highs and lows a character experiences while working through the tough stuff and the effort it takes to grow, and move forward. That’s all in Love Letters but despite some similarities, I assure you that this debut stands on its own with unique story structure, fluid writing, and a main character I wanted to shield from her demons and deliver to safety.

This is a difficult book to read, friends. And not for any reasons except it was dark and it was sad and some of it felt very lonely. I pictured Laurel sitting in her room or at school writing letters to Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, or Heath Ledger and it just tore me up inside. Even as she maneuvered new friendships, a possible love connection (the absolutely amazing and mature Sky), and attempts to reconnect with her once jokester father and her runaway mother, everything in Laurel’s life felt so out of control. I wanted to be positive for her but gosh, it was so hard and I wondered when (and if) things would take a turn for the better.

The love Laurel and May had for each other was encompassed by this innocence I loved so much. Even when May started to detach herself from her family, she always came back to Laurel. It was a shame that May’s own distractions kept her from seeing what was going on with her little sister, and heartbreaking (but not unheard of) that Laurel couldn’t be open with her. There were a lot of “coulda shoulda wouldas” and at some point, playing rewind and reliving all of these moments could make someone totally unhinged. Especially if you are keeping it all to yourself. I was curious to see if Laurel would take these missed opportunities and make necessary changes for her future.

I have to take a minute to talk about the supporting characters. Hannah and Natalie, two girls who Laurel makes friends with at school, both have their own separate stories and  I liked watching the ebbs of flows of their relationships with one another. Can you truly be friends if you are unable to be honest and open up? What if you can’t accept who you really are? For awhile I wasn’t even sure if Hannah and Natalie would remain friends throughout the book, and I felt a lot of Laurel’s own anxieties about fitting in and finding people who know you. (Especially when people you love have the tendency to leave.)

I also have to give it up for Sky; he’s older and a bit mysterious but I really thought he did good by Laurel even when she might not have seen it that way. He wanted to be her shoulder, he wanted to help her, but how do you help someone who doesn’t want to help herself? Sky felt like an anchor from the moment he and Laurel connected but she had to be her own life preserver for them to work as friends or as more than that. Everything about Sky felt true to Love Letters‘ story.

When I’m reading (and I’m not sure I’m alone), I tend to think about the longevity of a book’s time in my life. Will I read it again? Do I want to own a copy? Is it the kind of book I want to pass on to others? I had my doubts with this one because it was just so very sad. Why would I want to relive it, right? Well, I was so impressed with the beauty of Dellaira’s writing and I found myself berating myself for not taking extensive notes from the very beginning. From the conclusions Laurel would draw about the celebrities she confided in, the music and movies she mentioned, and even what she chose to share with each of these people… there is so much to breakdown and discover. Love Letters is a book that not only deserves your uninterrupted attention, but a spot of honor on your bookshelf.

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April 5, 2014 - 6:44 pm

Katy - I’ve seen a lot of buzz for this around twitter and haven’t read any actual reviews but I’m glad I read yours! It sounds sad but good. Laurel and May’s relationship sounds heartbreaking and important to look at. The friendships sound really great, and I like that they have their own stories. It’s difficult for me to open up to people, so I think that part of the story would be interesting and relevant to me. Sky sounds great too! I always think about whether I would want to reread or recommend a book, it sounds like this is such a good one. I definitely want to try to pick it up soon! Such a great review!

April 4, 2014 - 1:13 am

Review: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira - […] stand in the way of what makes you happy and that was really eye-opening for me. (Special nod to Estelle’s review because I almost forgot to include these two girls in my review somehow!) Sky || Relation to […]

March 31, 2014 - 1:36 pm

Ashley May - I’ve been hearing so much buzz about this book recently and now after reading your review I’m even more excited about getting it.

I think I may be a little in love with it already after reading your thoughts.

Ashley

March 30, 2014 - 10:27 am

Brittany @ The Book Addict's Guide - I’m so glad you loved it! I just didn’t connect with it as much as I wanted to and as much as we were inside Laurel’s head, I think I felt frustrated that she wasn’t helping herself and how hard her struggle was for her. She had such a rough time but at the same time, I was having difficultly connecting with her emotions.
I enjoyed the second half much more than the first though. I just had so many mixed feelings on this one! Love your enthusiasm for it, though, and it totally does seem like a “you” book 😀

March 22, 2014 - 1:23 pm

Alexa - I’m glad that you really liked this one. Sometimes sad books are hard to read but sometimes they are favorites of mine. Some of my old favorites from many years ago are books that had some sad elements to them. I feel if you are going to cry during a book or ugly cry while reading the book then it will stand out to you forever.

Thanks for the great review!

March 21, 2014 - 3:51 pm

alice-jane - I love how detailed your review of Love Letters to the Dead is! It’s really informative and I could really get a feel for whether or not I’d like the book. I think it’s a book that I could really connect to, the struggles of knowing people who don’t really open up and how relationships can progress from that. I’m happy that the romantic interest as well as the supporting characters seem to have filled up the book, adding to it, instead of just being there.

March 20, 2014 - 9:00 pm

Alexa S. - Honestly, I’m seriously in love with your review of Love Letters to the Dead. It’s so beautifully written and coherent and awesome! But yes, I agree. I really liked the way that Laurel’s story was told, and think it’s worth a read.

March 20, 2014 - 9:58 am

Quinn @ Quinn's Book Nook - I’ve been hearing very good things about Love Letters to the Dead. I’m very interested in it, but I am also a bit hesitant because, as you mentioned, it seems so sad. I don’t mind sad books, but, to be honest, I rarely read them. I might actually read this via audiobook.

This was a great review, Estelle. 🙂

March 20, 2014 - 9:55 am

Candice @ The Grown-Up YA - Oh I’m glad this one is good! I’ve been wanting to read it for a while now, mostly because she writes a letter to Kurt Corbain, who is someone I remember from my young adulthood. But the story sounds so beautiful too! And loved that you compared it to Perks of Being a Wallflower; that sold me! Great review!

March 20, 2014 - 9:27 am

Andrea (Cozy Up With A Good Read) - Yes, this book was so beautiful! I definitely felt the emotions in the letters that Laurel writes, and I loved the build up to what happened and why Laurel is blaming herself. I think this book will stay with readers for years to come.

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