I finished Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira on a plane. Not a good idea. Tears were streaming down my face as I sobbed out loud through the last pages of this young adult novel. My fellow passengers at the start of a nine-hour flight to London thought I was demented and kept their distance from me the remainder of the long trip. Actually, now that I think about it that was not such a bad thing. So Love Letters to the Dead not only moved me, but also saved me … in a way. No one disturbed me with mindless chatter for the entire flight.
The “letters” started as an English class assignment in the protagonist’s new high school. Students were assigned to write a letter to someone who had died – it didn’t have to be someone they knew personally. Laurel wrote hers to Kurt Cobain. She talked to him about her older sister, May, who was gone. Laurel had moved to a different high school, away from everyone that had known May. She was a freshman. She didn't turn in that letter to Kurt Cobain, but she continued to write more letters. She not only wrote to Kurt Cobain. She also wrote to Judy Garland, Amelia Earhart, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger, E.E. Cummings, and others. Her older sister had been her idol, perfect in her eyes. During the course of the school year and the letters, Laurel comes to understand more about her sister and heal from the loss of her only sibling.
The book uses a wonderful framework as the writer explores the lives of people who died young. It also shows a teenage girl learning how to live in the world. At one point Laurel writes, “…maybe what growing up really means is knowing that you don’t have to just be a character, going whichever way the story says. It's knowing you can be the author instead.” The book is engaging and emotional. Like I said earlier, it made me cry. Hard. The book would make a great movie, and has already been optioned for film. So read it before the movie comes out!