Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
Published: April 1st 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
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.
It is achingly sad and profoundly beautiful.
This was my first experience reading a book composed strictly of letters. I found the storyline to be linear and consistent even outside of the typical structure of a novel.
To keep my review universal, I will not name, names—but I have known several ‘May’s’ in my life. In fact, I have known both May’s and Laurel’s. The ones who left this world to soon, and those left behind. Laurel tries to resurrect her sister and feel exactly as she felt while she writes her series of letters to May’s idols—Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and mostly, Kurt Cobain.
Dellaira discusses suicide and depression with a form of raw grace and beauty that I have yet to see this topic discussed in. She used universal idols to address letters to, to invoke emotion from the readers…it certainly worked.
Using lines directly from Cobain’s suicide letter, Dellaira both breaks your heart and in the same breath, inspires hope—hope, that suicide is not the answer. What really stuck out to me, was about midway through the book when Laurel has changed her sadness into anger and she destroys Kurt’s poster from May’s room.
She explains in her letter to Kurt that he was wrong. He said he left because he wanted those he loved to be okay without him, and that he ‘loved everyone too much, and everything was just to f***ing sad. Laurel’s rebuttal, he made the world for those he left behind as ugly as he felt it was. For his family, he would always be the one that had brought upon the greatest heartbreak and shown the darkest side of human nature. Wow. Heavy words that pack such an emotional punch.
I’ve read some reviews of this book that have been less than kind, and I find myself thinking: how lucky to be a reader that cannot relate to depression or having lost loved ones to suicide.
Some books allow you a simple escape from your reality for a few hours, deliver a few laughs and as the last page draws to a close, so the does story for you. Love Letters To The Dead is a story that I believe has the power to save a life. To fix a broken heart. It combines two of my great loves: music and poetic prose to deliver a message that life is meant to be lived.
I wish this book had existed years ago…It makes my mind travel back and think of a very special friend…I wonder who she could have been if she had the chance to grow up.