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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. ...
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 in this stunning debut from Ava Dellaira, Love Letters to the Dead.
"Dellaira's characters are authentically conceived and beautifully drawn." - The Horn Book
"Best for teens who enjoyed Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower." - School Library Journal
"Laurel and her friends’ struggles and hard-won successes are poignant, and seeing Laurel begin to forgive herself and May is extremely moving." —Publishers Weekly
"I simply loved this book. Love Letters to the Dead is more than a stunning debut. It is the announcement of a bold new literary voice." —Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower
"A brilliant story about the courage it takes to keep living after your world falls apart. A heart-wrenching celebration of love and friendship and family." —Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak
"With beautiful observations of where life can take us, from grieving to celebrating, disappointment to wonder, LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is a love letter to living." —Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why
"Dear Ava Dellaira: Your book broke my heart, and pieced it back together. As with Kurt, Janis, Amelia and the others who are gone but still somehow here, LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD leaves an indelible mark." —Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay
"As wondrous—and as fearless—as a shooting star." —Lauren Myracle, author, The Winnie Years
"Riveting, captivating, utterly disarming. I could not put this book down! LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is like discovering a shoebox full of notes addressed to someone else. I read fast, afraid I'd be caught peeking at something I wasn't ever supposed to see. A voyeuristic delight!" —Siobhan Vivian, author of The List
"Effective and satisfyingly heartbreaking." - Kirkus Reviews
Dear Kurt Cobain,
Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English today, to write a letter to a dead person. As if the letter could reach you in heaven, or at the post office for ghosts. She probably meant for us to write to someone like a former president or something, but I need someone to talk to. I couldn’t talk to a president. I can talk to you.
I wish you could tell me where you are now and why you left. You were my sister May’s favorite musician. Since she’s been gone, it’s hard to be myself, because I don’t know exactly who I am. But now that I’ve started high school, I need to figure it out really fast. Because I can tell that otherwise, I could drown here.
The only things I know about high school are from May. On my first day, I went into her closet and found the outfit that I remember her wearing on her first day—a pleated skirt with a pink cashmere sweater that she cut the neck off of and pinned a Nirvana patch to, the smiley face one with the x-shaped eyes. But the thing about May is that she was beautiful, in a way that stays in your mind. Her hair was perfectly smooth, and she walked like she belonged in a better world, so the outfit made sense on her. I put it on and stared at myself in front of her mirror, trying to feel like I belonged in any world, but on me it looked like I was wearing a costume. So I used my favorite outfit from middle school instead, which is jean overalls with a long-sleeve tee shirt and hoop earrings. When I stepped into the hall of West Mesa High, I knew right away this was wrong.
The next thing I realized is that you aren’t supposed to bring your lunch. You are supposed to buy pizza and Nutter Butters, or else you aren’t supposed to even eat lunch. My aunt Amy, who I live with every other week now, has started making me iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiches on kaiser rolls, because that’s what we liked to have, May and I, when we were little. I used to have a normal family. I mean, not a perfect one, but it was Mom and Dad and May and me. Now that seems like a long time ago. But Aunt Amy tries hard, and she likes making the sandwiches so much, I can’t explain that they aren’t right in high school. So I go into the girls’ bathroom, eat the kaiser roll as quickly as I can, and throw the paper bag in the trash for tampons.
It’s been a week, and I still don’t know anyone here. All the kids from my middle school went to Sandia High, which is where May went. I didn’t want everyone there feeling sorry for me and asking questions I couldn’t answer, so I came to West Mesa instead, the school in Aunt Amy’s district. This is supposed to be a fresh start, I guess.
Since I don’t really want to spend all forty-three minutes of lunch in the bathroom, once I finish my kaiser roll I go outside and sit by the fence. I turn myself invisible so I can just watch. The trees are starting to rain leaves, but the air is still hot enough to swim through. I especially like to watch this boy, whose name I figured out is Sky. He always wears a leather jacket, even though summer is barely over. He reminds me that the air isn’t just something that’s there. It’s something you breathe in. Even though he’s all the way across the school yard, I feel like I can see his chest rising up and down.
I don’t know why, but in this place full of strangers, it feels good that Sky is breathing the same air as I am. The same air that you did. The same air as May.
Sometimes your music sounds like there’s too much inside of you. Maybe even you couldn’t get it all out. Maybe that’s why you died. Like you exploded from the inside. I guess I am not doing this assignment the way I am supposed to. Maybe I’ll try again later.
Dear Kurt Cobain,
When Mrs. Buster asked us to pass our letters up at the end of class today, I looked at my notebook where I wrote mine and folded it closed. As soon as the bell rang, I hurried to pack my stuff and left. There are some things that I can’t tell anyone, except the people who aren’t here anymore.
The first time May played your music for me, I was in eighth grade. She was in tenth. Ever since she’d gotten to high school, she seemed further and further away. I missed her, and the worlds we used to make up together. But that night in the car, it was just the two of us again. She put on “Heart-Shaped Box,” and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before.
When May turned her eyes from the road and asked, “Do you like it?” it was as if she’d opened the door to her new world and was asking me in. I nodded yes. It was a world full of feelings that I didn’t have words for yet.
Lately, I’ve been listening to you again. I put on In Utero, close the door and close my eyes, and play the whole thing a lot of times. And when I am there with your voice, it’s hard to explain it, but I feel like I start to make sense.
After May died last April, it’s like my brain just shut off. I didn’t know how to answer any of the questions my parents asked, so I basically stopped talking for a little while. And finally we all stopped talking, at least about that. It’s a myth that grief makes you closer. We were all on our own islands—Dad in the house, Mom in the apartment she’d moved into a few years before, and me bouncing back and forth in silence, too out of it to go to the last months of middle school.
Eventually Dad turned up the volume on his baseball games and went back to work at Rhodes Construction, and Mom left to go away to a ranch in California two months later. Maybe she was mad that I couldn’t tell her what happened. But I can’t tell anyone.
In the long summer sitting around, I started looking online for articles, or pictures, or some story that could replace the one that kept playing in my head. There was the obituary that said May was a beautiful young woman and a great student and beloved by her family. And there was the one little article from the paper, “Local Teen Dies Tragically,” accompanied by a photo of flowers and things that some kids from her old school left by the bridge, along with her yearbook picture, where she’s smiling and her hair is shining and her eyes are looking right out at us.
Maybe you can help me figure out how to find a door to a new world again. I still haven’t made any friends yet. I’ve actually hardly said a single word the whole week and a half I’ve been here, except “present” during roll call. And to ask the secretary for directions to class. But there is this girl named Natalie in my English class. She draws pictures on her arms. Not just normal hearts, but meadows with creatures and girls and trees that look like they are alive. She wears her hair in two braids that go down to her waist, and everything about her dark skin is perfectly smooth. Her eyes are two different colors—one is almost black, and the other is foggy green. She passed me a note yesterday with just a little smiley face on it. I am thinking that maybe soon I could try to eat lunch with her.
When everyone stands in line at lunch to buy stuff, they all look like they are standing together. I couldn’t stop wishing that I was standing with them, too. I didn’t want to bother Dad about asking for money, because he looks stressed out whenever I do, and I can’t ask Aunt Amy, because she thinks I am happy with the kaiser rolls. But I started collecting change when I find it—a penny on the ground or a quarter in the broken soda machine, and yesterday I took fifty cents off of Aunt Amy’s dresser. I felt bad. Still, it made enough to buy a pack of Nutter Butters.
I liked everything about it. I liked waiting in line with everyone. I liked that the girl in front of me had red curls on the back of her head that you could tell she curled herself. And I liked the thin crinkle of the plastic when I opened the wrapper. I liked how every bite made a falling-apart kind of crunch.
Then what happened is this—I was nibbling a Nutter Butter and staring at Sky through the raining leaves. That’s when he saw me. He was turning to talk to someone. He went into slow motion. Our eyes met for a minute, before mine darted away. It felt like fireflies lighting under my skin. The thing is, when I looked back up, Sky was still looking. His eyes were like your voice—keys to a place in me that could burst open.
Dear Judy Garland,
I thought of writing to you, because The Wizard of Oz is still my favorite movie. My mom would always put it on when I stayed home sick from school. She would give me ginger ale with pink plastic ice cubes and cinnamon toast, and you would be singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
I realize now that everyone knows your face. Everyone knows your voice. But not everyone knows where you were really from, when you weren’t from the movies.
I can imagine you as a little girl on a December day in the town where you grew up on the edge of the Mojave Desert, tap-tap-tap-dancing onstage in your daddy’s movie theater. Singing your jingle bells. You learned right away that applause sounds like love.
I can imagine you on summer nights, when everyone would come to the theater to get out of the heat. Under the refrigerated air, you would be up onstage, making the audience forget for the moment that there was anything to be afraid of. Your mom and dad would smile up at you. They looked the happiest when you were singing.
Afterward, the movie would pass by in a blur of black and white, and you would get suddenly sleepy. Your daddy would carry you outside, and it was time to drive home in his big car, like a boat swimming over the dark asphalt surface of the earth.
You never wanted anyone to be sad, so you kept singing. You’d sing yourself to sleep when your parents were fighting. And when they weren’t fighting, you’d sing to make them laugh. You used your voice like glue to keep your family together. And then to keep yourself from coming undone.
My mom used to sing me and May to sleep with a lullaby. Her voice would croon, “all bound for morning town…” She would stroke my hair and stay until I slept. When I couldn’t sleep, she would tell me to imagine myself in a bubble over the sea. I would close my eyes and float there, listening to the waves. I would look down at the shimmering water. When the bubble broke, I would hear her voice, making a new bubble to catch me.
But now when I try to imagine myself over the sea, the bubble pops right away. I have to open my eyes with a start before I crash. Mom is too sad to take care of me. She and Dad split up right before May started high school, and after May died almost two years later, she went all the way to California.
With just Dad and me at our house, it’s full of echoes everywhere. I go back in my mind to when we were all together. I can smell the sizzle of the meat from Mom making dinner. It sparkles. I can almost look out the window and see May and me in the yard, collecting ingredients for our fairy spells.
Instead of staying with Mom every other week like May and I did after the divorce, now I stay with Aunt Amy. Her house is a different kind of empty. It’s not full of ghosts. It’s quiet, with shelves set up with rose china, and china dolls, and rose soaps meant to wash out sadness. But always saved for when they are really needed, I guess. We just use Ivory in the bathroom.
I am looking out the window now in her cold house, from under the rose quilt, to find the first star.
I wish you could tell me where you are now. I mean, I know you’re dead, but I think there must be something in a human being that can’t just disappear. It’s dark out. You’re out there. Somewhere, somewhere. I’d like to let you in.
Copyright © 2014 by Ava Dellaira
Posted April 1, 2014
Wonderful YA novel!
In the interest of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book at no cost from the publisher for review purposes.
I just loved this book. Even though I was a teenager half my life ago, this book is one of the reasons I still choose to read YA novels. There are no silly sparkly vampires seen here. There is really nothing sparkly seen here at all. This book is real. This book makes the reader feel.
Laurel is just entering a high school at a new school. She is given an assignment in her English class of writing a letter to a person who is dead. While Laurel never turns in her assignment, she spends that year writing letters to famous dead people as a way of journaling her very troubled life. Through the letters, the reader learns everything that troubles Laurel but we learn them piece by piece. The biggest piece is the loss of her older sister and the subsequent effect on her family. Many pieces of the story do not come until the end of the book when Laurel is ready to deal with them. We watch her deal with pain and grief in stages as she is ready.
The letters are address to people that I know well since I am older than the intended audience. I do wonder if the average teen reader will know who Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, River Phoenix and Janis Joplin are and whether than will have any effect on their enjoyment of the book. This book will probably be best for an older teen as drinking, drugs, and sex (plus other sensitive topics) are part of the story.
We do see Laurel grow and deal with everything that has happened in her life. I have hope for her future. This is a story of a girl having the strength to overcome what life has thrown at her.
6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 12, 2014
Laurel is in a new school to try and get away from everyone knowing who she is and what happened to her sister. She gets her first assignment in English class to write a letter to someone who has died. She writes to Kurt Cobain because he died young like her sister May did. While she doesn't turn it in that assignment started her writing to all kinds of dead people about what is going on in her life and the more she writes the more she reveals about what happened to her and her sister. The letters become a way of her finally getting out what she has been hiding from.
I had heard great things about this book and was glad I finally got the time to read it. Laurel is a young girl who is in many ways running from who she is. She lost her sister and now just wants to move on. She goes to a new school and begins to make new friends. She doesn't share anything from her past with them. With her new friends she begins to d many things from drinking form the first time, to falling in love with a guy, to sharing their secrets. All the time she is writing letters do dead people in her journal talking about her life. She slowly begins to talk about what happened to her sister and her in the letters. She doesn't want anyone to read them. Her sister's death has tore her family apart and Laurel has to learn to talk to them as well. The letters help her do so. I liked this book as it is very clever in how it is written. You do get to see Laurel in her every day life but the journal entries are a great touch as you see why she has picked each person and why they are special to her. Kurt Cobain is just the start of some amazing people she writes to. I felt sorry for her in many ways as most of the time she seemed to be trying to fit in with the others and hiding form what is really bothering her. I didn't expect what had happened to her and it was a twist that really surprised me. This is a wonderful book I would recommend to many.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2014
Could have been a good book until an honest review. Gave away to much info. Now I don' t need to read it. Teachs me a lesson,not to read long review.
2 out of 11 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 1, 2014
Posted May 9, 2014
I was super excited to read this book. The cover is gorgeous and the blurb sounds really interesting. At first, it was everything I had been hoping for. Laurel is writing letters to dead celebrities as she tries to figure out her life. She is trying to cope with the fact that her mom ran away and her sister died. She's at a new school and makes some new friends. The writing is gorgeous and full of emotion. I love the way Laurel describes things, like the way she feels connected to the music of dead singers, or the performances of dead actors.
About half way through, I started to lose interest. The beginning was so awesome, but then the same things kept getting rehashed over and over. The writing was still beautiful, and I really enjoyed Laurel's relationship with the dead people she keeps writing to. But the story had somehow lost it's spark for me. I didn't feel like I connected with the characters all that much. They were all pretty quirky, which isn't a bad thing, but it just wasn't MY thing.
I'm not a teenager, so maybe that had something to do with it, but I can't be certain that I would have connected with the book even if I were a teenager. I'm chalking this one up to personal taste, because it really is a beautifully written book.
Content: This one has a LOT of content. Underage drinking, sex between underage teens and older guys, drugs, smoking, passionate make out sessions with and without clothes, and quite a bit of language. Far too many F-words for my tastes.
The Cover: I adore this cover! It is so gorgeous and it portrays the feel of this book really well. The cover was definitely a huge plus for me.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 10, 2014
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Love Letters to the Dead is one of the most important books I’ve read in my entire life. It’s important because the message it conveys, is of the utmost important. The story tells us about Laurel, the main character, who moved schools after her sister, May, passed away. After May’s death, Laurel’s entire life has crumbled apart. She tries to become like May, tries to make her sister come to life again by becoming her. She tries to understand her sister and the mistakes she made, the choices she picked, and why. But the more Laurel begins to behave like May, the more she loses herself.
Her English teacher gives her an assignment – to write a letter to a dead person. Laurel starts writing to Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and more. She picked those artists because her sisters loved them, or because they had something in common with her sister. As Laurel writes more and more letters, in which she talks about her new life, her new friends, how she copes with her sister’s passing, about her Mom who lives halfway across the state now, and about her Dad who tries so hard to cope, I started to feel a real connection to her, and my heart broke for Laurel. But despite it all, she keeps on going strong, and tries to deal with the past the only way she knows how.
The book is beautifully written. It brought me to tears more than once. The characters are amazing, and even May, although deceased, feels like a real character. The book feels very real, as if Laurel and her friends – who each have their own share of troubles – could just walk into the room and start chatting.
A great, inspiring read. Keep the tissues ready.
1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 5, 2014
I just finished this book literally 15 minutes ago. I read the whole book in a day, i really liked this book. I was on the edge of my seat after every single page because there was never a page that was a drag on. It shows what she has been through and her obstacles that she faces after the death of her sister. I definitely recommend this book.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 29, 2014
This book to me is honestly relateable in so many ways
I seriously could not put it down, i felt connected to Laurel and fell in love with Sky, they kept me on my toes the entire time. Throughout this book I admit, I cried, idk it just hit me in a way I can't describe , truley one of the best books i have read in awhile.
Posted April 25, 2014
Posted April 22, 2014
This book is confusing for me to review/rate.
Overall, I liked this book. If I think about the book in terms of individual letters, though, I feel less certain about whether or not I liked it as much. I enjoy stories that are told in the form of letters. I especially liked that the letters are addressed to people that I am familiar with. However, the included details about the letter recipients, solely for the sake of the reader, kind of threw the story off. It felt strange to read the letter discussing the recipient’s life and then transition into what was going on in Laurel’s life. It didn’t flow well for me.
The book is about dealing with loss, moving on, and becoming your own person after losing someone you’re close to. I enjoyed the way the story unfolded, over time and in a realistic way. However, there were times where I just wanted to know what happened already! Laurel’s grief over her sister’s death is palpable. It rang true in her letters. I think her transition throughout the book was done well. It’s hard dealing with life sometimes and this is especially so when dealing with such a great loss.
Love Letters to the Dead is a unique coming-of-age story. It will work for some, but fail for others.
You can read all of my reviews on my blog, KDH Reviews.
Posted April 22, 2014
I finally picked up the book that everyone is raving about. And yes, it is good.
Plot: This story is told through letters written to dead people. I love the way these letters reveal a small part Laurel life’s. She writes to each person differently, capturing the reader with great imagination. The way she wrote her feelings, the way she questions actions, helps the reader become more in-tune with Laurel.
Friendship/Loss: Laurel goes through a lot. With each letter Laurel becomes better and learns to deal. Each letter is significant to the person she is writing to. For me, it felt like Laurel’s connection to each dead person makes it real. Towards the end, I adored Laurel and the way she dealt with grief.
Ending: I think this story deals with grief that any teen can connect to. It has music and it has soul. It touches the reader right in the heart.
Love Letters To The Dead is an effective tale of grief and lost. The elegant use of letters, steals the reader away. Love Letters To The Dead is awesome.
Posted April 16, 2014
More on a teen level, but I loved the concept of a teacher giving an assignment for her class to write a letter to a dead person which for one student turns into several letters to different dead celebrities. The assignment becomes a healing process for her and ger journey is one to take in.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 29, 2014
No text was provided for this review.