Tuesday, May 6, 2014

May Challenge: Love Letters to the Dead

Meeting an author in real life became a reality for me a few years ago. In 2013 I met Lauren Oliver, Hugh Howey and Jodi Picoult. 2014 has not been as exciting, mainly because I haven't met anyone. I'm counting on June's Fierce Reads tour to change that. Leigh Bardugo, Emmy Laybourne, Ava Dellaria and Jennifer Mathieu will headline the YA tour with their May/June releases.
I challenged myself to read and familiarize myself with these authors and their latest novels in May so I'm ready for the event in June.
I'm one book down for my goal after reading Love Letters to the Dead.
Author: Ava Dellaria
Rating: 4 stars
Review Contains Major Spoilers

Ava Dellaria's debut novel is a lovely and heartbreaking coming-of-age story. The protagonist, Laurel, is starting high school and can't come to terms with her past. Her sister May's death resulted in her mother moving away and Laurel choosing to live with her aunt part time. Laurel also starts high school in a different school district without her sister's death to overshadow her identity. One of her first high school assignments is to write a letter to a dead person. Lauren writes letters to Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain. Amelia Earhart and other famously tragic people. Pretty soon one homework assignment turns into a ritual diary experience. Through her letters Lauren relates to the dead person's life and experiences with her own and May's. As she navigates high school, first love and friendships the letters become a safety net.
Personally it was hard for me to connect with some of the dead people Laurel wrote to, therefore making some of the writing bland and hard to enjoy. Judy Garland and River Phoenix were my favorites backstories. I feel like the letters should have been written to May because it's more personal and gutwrenching but I get that would have been repetitive over time.
In the end, I feel like readers get a slow and heartbreaking view into how young adults and families fall apart and slowly come back together. May was Laurel's hero, above any of the dead musicians, poets or celebrities she wrote to. She came undone after their parents divorced and hid her pain from Laurel to protect her. Despite her best efforts, Laurel was molested when May was supposed to be watching her. May falls to her death after Lauren tells her the truth. To me suicide was heavily implied even though May was drunk at the time.
Laurel slowly reveals her pain and secrets to her friends and the guy she likes. Laurel's friends and on again/off again boyfriend started out as one dimensional to me but I grew to like them. Laurel's family felt more relatable in writing to me. While parts of the ending came off as too cookie cutter perfect for me it was also realistic in its own way. As far as debut novels go, Dellaria has a good start.

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