Genres: Contemporary, Abuse, LGBT,
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: 1st April 2014
Find The Author: Website ¦ Twitter
Amazon UK/US ¦ 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.
Like many readers, Love Letters To The Dead's cover really drew me in. It's absolutely gorgeous. I've been reading a lot more contemporary YA lately and the unique idea of having the story set out in a series of letters to dead celebrities really appealed to the weirder side of me, so I made sure I read it as soon as possible. The opening 20% or so was really good with poetic writing and an interesting storyline.
Laurel's sister has died and her mother has moved to California, leaving Laurel and her Dad to pick up the pieces. Laurel chooses to attend a school further away from her sister's old school, to avoid being 'that girl'. However, this doesn't work as Sky, a boy she spots the first day in the cafeteria, knew May and knew that Laurel was her sister. The she finds out that a teacher of hers knew May too. This book mostly focuses on Laurel trying to fit in with girls her age while dealing with a huge loss in her life and she uses the letters to cope and reflect on the events of the day.
However, about 30% in it started getting quite dull and I started asking more questions. With a contemporary like this, certainly of the ones I've read, you only need about 200 - 250 pages. However this is dragged out to over 330 and it really dulled the story for me. I literally nearly fell asleep in a couple of places. The writing is poetic, sure, but that got old fast for me and felt forced, not the author's natural style. I'm not the author though so perhaps that is her style. I also was confused as to why so many different characters would all speak in this weird poetic style all time.
The lovely unique aspect we have, the letter writing to celebrities that have died, actually started to downright piss me off. It's one thing writing to celebrities but the book really showed the celebrity culture and how we immerse ourselves in lives that are not ours. The main character makes lots of presumptions about the celebrities and how their lives must have been and it just felt... wrong to me. At one point, the most shocking part of the story for me, was the main character wondering if River Phoenix had been raped as a child. There's no proof of this and if I was his family I would be horrified (and would probably file a lawsuit or something). It just felt far too invasive. These were real people, not objects to pick and poke at like that.
The more interesting storyline for me, that isn't mentioned in the description, is the lesbian (ish?) subplot. Hannah and Natalie, Laurel's friends, are clearly in love and they really struggle with that and trying to hide it from the school and relatives. I do wish this book had been from Natalie's point of view, I think it would have been a far more interesting read.
I wasn't a fan of the ending either. I'm glad I read that far for the revelations and big reveals and such but that was also dragged out so that nearly every small storyline could be wrapped up with a pretty bow. If you like that sort of thing, great but it didn't feel right to be, to have everything happy and wonderful.