on 1st May 2014
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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.
When Laurel’s sister May died, Laurel felt like she had no one left. Her mother moved to California to some kind of retreat and she hasn’t had a real conversation with her father in a long time. When her English teacher sets the class an assignment of writing a letter to someone who has died, Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain – her late sister’s favourite singer. What starts as a piece of assessment turns into so much more. Laurel finds that she can tell dead celebrities all the things she keeps bottled up inside. Musicians, poets, actresses and even the voice of Mister Ed – each of them means something different to Laurel. Though her letters to the dead, Laurel finds her voice.
This book is a story about friendship, secrets, coming of age and grief. Laurel is grieving the loss of not only her sister but May was also her best friend and closest ally. It’s hard for Laurel and changing schools so she can start anew with people who don’t know about May only isolates her further. This book is at times a difficult read. Not for how it was written but because of the subject matter. In trying to cope with May’s passing, Laurel makes some decisions which take her down some scary and dangerous roads. She is so young and comes across as so naive but the more we get to see Laurel’s journey we see how hard her life was even before May died.
Love Letters to the Dead is also about first loves. The romance in this book was so hopeful and optimistic with all the awkwardness and problems which come with teenage relationships. The depth of friendship is also explored and witnessing the ups and downs of these relationships was amazing. Laurel’s friends may be unconventional and have their own things going on but they are still there for each other when they need it most.
This book is beautiful written. Laurel’s thoughts are poetic and poignant but her conversations with the living were often clumsy. Laurel’s letters were never really to celebrities but rather a way to sort out her feelings of guilt and unhappiness. She grows so much over the course of the novel and it took a while for Laurel to come to terms with what happened. Her refusal to deal with May’s death was portrayed in a realistic manner and Laurel’s pain was palpable.
There are pop-culture references scattered liberally throughout the novel and while there are recent ones, I wondered while I read it if this book would have been more appropriate if it had been set n the nineties. Kurt Cobain, his music as well as River Phoenix are a driving force behind many of the letters Laurel writes and there are times when I almost forgot this book was set in the present day. Despite this – this book is still relevant to all those reading no matter when the references were popular.
Love Letters to the Dead is a thought-provoking and emotional read. Dealing with some very adult issues like drug use, depression and death, this beautifully written book is both heartbreaking and moving.
“It was a perfect first kiss, like a gust of wind that swept through me, taking my breath away and letting me breathe again all at once. A kiss to come alive in.”
“”Let me tell you something. Buttercup,”He said. “There are two most important things in the world – being in danger, and being saved.” […]
“But if those are the most important things, what about being in love?”
“Why do you think that’s the most profound thing for a person? It’s both at once. When we are in love, we are both completely in danger and completely saved.””
Thanks to Hot Key Books for the review copy