23 June 2014

Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I was attracted to Love Letters to the Dead because it had a cover blurb from Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), which I loved.  Letters had a lot of similarities to Perks, in its epistolary format and in its setting.  Both featured main characters who used writing to cope with the traumas of their past.  It would be easy to call Letters derivative, but it was far from it.  Letters was unique and beautiful and I thoroughly loved it.  I loved it so much I read it in 3 days.  I would have read it in one if I didn’t have to go to work.

Letters tells the story of Laurel, who is given an assignment to write a letter to a dead person.  She soon finds herself pouring out her soul in those letters, and in doing so, we see her struggling through high school, making friends, falling in love, and dealing with her past.

I forgot who said it or what their exact wording was, but it goes something like:

No one ever really leaves high school.

That’s certainly true for me.  Reading about Laurel’s life, I remembered my own years.  I don’t know how typical my experience was compared to Laurel’s.  I went to high school with friends already made from middle school (indeed, from elementary school, and I’m still friends with some of them to this day); I was always, for lack of a better word, a goodie-two-shoes.  I never went to a party, I never drank or did drugs, and I wasn’t even cool enough to be invited or offered.  I knew plenty of people who did.  I wonder how many of them had lives like Laurel’s.

It’s hard to talk about Letters without spoilers.  The question at the heart of the novel really informs the whole thing, and I don’t want to give that away.  I will say that I accurately guessed what Laurel wasn’t saying by about a third of the way through the novel, but I like to think that’s because I’m a careful reader and the author was very good at providing subtle hints.  I don’t think it was that obvious.

The climax was so poignant and cathartic, but it surprised me how underplayed it was.  Sometimes, when people have to face something they don’t want to, they rail and scream against it, and that’s seen in plenty of novels.  Laurel, on the other hand, handles it more quietly, and it really worked.

Letters also had a wonderful denouement.  Not one but several chapters followed Laurel even after her big breakthrough, showing her new paradigm, how her relationships with her family and friends had shifted, and showing us what her future might be like.

It also seems worth noting to me the inclusion of a pair of lesbian characters whose relationship was portrayed very lovingly and realistically.  I have seen a growing trend of this in my reading - the inclusion LGBTQ characters in young adult fiction as a matter of course and not as a matter of sensationalism.

Love Letters to the Dead was a wonderful read, and, above all, it was fulfilling.  That may not sound like much, but it’s high praise.  A lot of what I’ve read lately has been lacking on that front.  I hope I get to read more books as fulfilling as it this year.  So far, I’d have to say it’s topping my list.


Books: Finished Supergods and started on Michael Gruber's The Good Son.

Bottles: K Syrah Milbrandt Wahluke Slope 2011.  Delightful!  Also, Round Pond 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Writing: My query jumped the shark!  Not really, but I submitted it to the QueryShark and it was selected (yea!) and got a positive response (even more yea!).  Also started getting words on the page for my next project.  Mostly just writing whatever I feel like about the new story and I'll figure out if it's actually any use later.  Getting to know the characters.

Guitar: Been gone in Dallas for a week, so no motion on that front.