Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Title: Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: April 1, 2014
Pages: 323
Source: ALA Midwinter

Summary from Goodreads:
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.


Love Letters to the Dead reads very easily. At times it was young, shy, or even poetic. At times there was so much emotion that it overwhelmed me. At times, I knew I could only pretend to understand.

It was not easy to be in Laurel’s head. She has suffered so much and has lost herself somewhere along the way. She tries to emulate her sister May – the way she saw her before she died – wild and brave. In truth, reckless. She tries to forget all the wrong that has been done to her – unspeakable truths that we don’t fully understand until the end. She tries to hide all the grief, guilt, betrayal, confusion, need, desire that she feels but at times it just forces its way out. But as hard as it was, and as rough of a start as it was, I was glad that I went on it with her. And I am glad of the point at which Laurel and I part.

I think the letter idea was wonderful. I loved how Laurel told her story to someone. I loved how she reflected on their life – the things they did, said, or were done or said to them – and how she spoke to it, made it her own, weaved it into her own story. And as Laurel changed, so did her impression of these people she was writing to, and so so did the letters. Rockers who may have been idolized at the beginning, didn’t seem so perfect in the end.

I don’t know if this book will work for everyone. And I don’t know if I loved the story so much as I am in a little in awe of it. It’s like this delicate thing that I don’t know how to handle or what to think. But I by no means regret reading it.

I end with an excerpt from the beginning of my favorite letter.  I don't think it's spoilery, but read at your own risk.
"Dear Kurt,
In the second sentence of your suicide note you said, This note should be pretty easy to understand. It is and it isn't. I mean, I get how it goes, what the story is and how it ends. Becoming a star didn't make you happy. It didn' make you invincible. You were still vulnerable, furious at everything and in love with it at once. The world was too much for you. People were too close to you. You said it in one sentence I can't get out of my head: There's good in all of us and I think I simply love people too much, so much that it makes me feel too fucking sad. Yes, I understand.
I feel it, too, when I see Aunt Amy rewinding the answering machine, playing a Jesus-man message from months ago as if it were new. When I see Hannah running over in her new dress to meet Kasey, all the while looking over her shoulder at Natalie. When I see Tristan, playing air guitar to one of your songs, when what he wants is to write his own. When I see Dad, coming over to kiss my head before bed, too tired to worry about where I go at night. When I see the boy in Bio who fills the always-empty seat beside him with a stack of books. Everything gets in. I can't stop them.
So yes, in a way, it's easy to understand. But on the other hand, it makes no fucking sense, as you would say. To kill yourself. No fucking sense at all. You didn't think about the rest of us. You didn't care about what would happen to us after you were gone."
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