Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: Love Letters to the Dead

Author: Ava Dellaira
ISBN: 0374346674
Book Genre: YA Contemporary
Release Date: April 1st 2014
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Book Source: NetGalley

Goodreads Synopsis:
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.

I know I mentioned before that I sometimes had difficulty in deciphering my feelings towards some books, since I was unsure whether I liked them or not, but let's face it, I wasn't always that confused with them. I did lean towards a point or the other. But I can safely say with all certainty that there was genuinely only one book I felt an agonizing amount of uncertainty classifying. Emphasis on agonizing. That book would be The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I could relate to that book so much that it scared me, I wasn't sure whether that was a good or bad thing. The reason I'm mentioning this is because this would be the second book I got those exact feelings towards.

This book is about Laurel, a girl whose life was absolutely perfect until two years go when her parents got divorced. Things spiraled out of control from there, her parents weren't the same, and neither was her sister. All of a sudden she felt alone, especially with her sister keeping her school/social/new life as far from home as she can, which upset Laurel so much. So when her sister gives her a chance to be a part of her life again, Laurel does everything she can to make it stay that way, even if it meant keeping quiet about what happens to her when her sister is supposed to be watching out for her. Now Laurel is starting her freshman year of high school, partly living at home and partly at her aunt's place and going to school as far from home as she can to avoid the sympathy and pity of everyone who knew what happened six months before. Her sister May had died. Laurel hasn't talked to anyone about it, she won't even tell her new friends she had a sister. But she feels oddly attached to writing letters to the dead. For an English class assignment that Laurel never hands in, she writes a letter to Kurt Cobain, who her sister had loved so much. Then another, then to other dead celebrities, feeling a stronger connection to them, like it's safer to tell them about what's happened than to the people in her life. She soon learns that she can't keep hiding things, and that she needs to confront her feelings in real life.

From the very beginning, I found the idea of this book very intriguing, and I was hooked. You know how when something bad happens to you, you find it difficult to talk about it, but it's so much easier to write it out? Like maybe as a diary entry, or as a story. With Laurel, I felt like she did that by writing those letters instead. It was her way to deal with everything. I am not sure if I'm drawing my own conclusions or seeing connections where I shouldn't, but at first I felt like the people she wrote to had some distinct importance. Not just because they were her favorite or her sister's or a friend's, but because there was a theme or a pattern. Maybe I'm reading too much into it? I'm not sure. But I felt like whenever she wanted to talk about her crush on Sky, her letters would be addressed to Kurt Cobain. Whenever she wanted to talk about being braver, her letters would be addressed to Amelia Earhart. Whenever she wanted to talk about her friends, Hannah in particular, it would be addressed to Amy Winehouse. But again, I'm not sure if they all followed that theme. What I'm sure about, is that she could draw from their lives connections to her own, which I guess is how she justified to herself why she was writing those letters; why she picked those particular people to write to. At first she was admiring their accomplishments, but it soon turns to bitterly accusing them for either OD'ing or committing suicide, and it all resonates with her feelings about her life, her bitterness towards her mother for leaving, and her sister for being dead. She's so conflicted and confused, and it's very easy to see where she's coming from.

It's sad when everyone knows you, but no one knows you. I'm guessing that you may have felt that way.

The similarities I found between Laurel and Charlie from The Perks was that they're both very subservient and compliant just to get others to like them. Laurel so badly wanted to make new friends, avoid the memories and escape her life that she doesn't question whatever Nathalie, Hannah, Tristan and Kristen tell her. Whether it's the music, the drugs, the alcohol, the skipping class. She wants them to like her, so she does whatever they ask. The only times you see her being original and actually smart, is during her English class, with her love of poetry and how she was so enamored with not just the poems she got to read, but with the people behind them, and trying to draw her own conclusions on why they wrote said poetry. It felt like she couldn't make much sense of her own life that she tried to make sense of theirs; tying herself to them. Laurel also appears to be very innocent, and quiet, and eager to please. She's like a child and it felt weird having her innocence and childish thoughts of fairies and magic merged in with all these high school experiences of drunken teens, drugs, and sex. She was the kind of person you want to hug and shelter from these things for as long as you can.

Now, since the entire book is told in the form of letters, the story itself might seem bleak and monotonous at times. I didn't find that to be bad however, since it was befitting to the entire nature of the story, even though with any other book, I would have definitely hated to even get past the first couple of chapters with that. But the writing in itself was great, and the choice of dead people and poetry in this book was pretty inspired. Although I was shaken by the letter to Heath Ledger, mostly because of all the dead people he's the only one I knew much about and dearly loved.

Another element of this book that I forgot to highlight - aside from mentioning Kurt Cobain - is the music. Music, in addition to the poetry in this book inspires Laurel, gives her strength, memories and helps her deal. She relates songs to people and moments and she cherishes the memories that come with the music. But as much as she admires the artists and thanks them for doing things that inspire and forever change generations after their demise, she still holds a flicker of antagonism towards them for the way they caused their own death and the people they left behind, blaming them as well as her sister for not being there anymore.
Nirvana means freedom. Freedom from suffering. I guess some people would say that death is just that. So congratulations on being free, I guess. The rest of us are still here, grappling with all that's been torn up.
 I am one of those people who judges a book by not only how well it's written, but how attached I become to the characters as well as how much it made me cry. I was crying like a broken water faucet whilst reading this book, so yes, I loved it.

Normally I don't do the whole 'if you like this book then you'll love that one' thing, because no two books are the same, and no two authors are. Each one has a different voice and no one can expect to love two books the same, you can't gauge someone's reaction. However, I'm doing it with this book, because in my personal opinion, it seriously does work out. If you loved either Saving June by Hannah Harrington or The Perks of being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky or both, then I can safely say, you'll more than enjoy this one.

Rating: 5/5* ish.

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