Review: Love letters to the dead

Dear Kurt Cobain,

So begins Ava Dellaria’s debut novel “Love Letters to the Dead”, the latest book I finished before diving in head first into the curious world of Neil Gaiman. Once again, “Love letters” left me torn and once again, I decided not to drop it and give the book a chance.

The story follows Laurel as she enters high school in the wake of her elder sister May’s mysterious death. May was the popular girl, one of those that light up the room with their presence. A perfect sister that Laurel looked up to during her whole life, her disappearance leaves a hole in Laurel’s family, a hole that neither she nor her parents could keep shut. At the beginning of the school term, Laurel starts writing letters to famous dead people, including Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Heath Ledger and others, telling them the story of her spiritual healing. To sum it all up, Ava Dellaria’s debut novel deals with: teenagers, love, loss, identity crisis, divorce, suicide and sexual abuse.

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“Nirvana means freedom. Freedom from suffering. I guess some people would say 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.”

Frankly, I expected a little gem, having read all the encouraging reviews and seeing that “Love letters to the dead” has already been picked up by Fox 2000 and will hit the silver screens. So many people could not be wrong, yet somehow throughout most of the book I ended up being more sympathetic of Laurel’s lesbian friends Natalie and Hannah, than of Laurel herself.

There’s just something deeply unlikable about the main character, yet I cannot confess a complete lack of sympathy. I suppose that would have made me an unfeeling monster that could not have anything in common with the trials and turmoils of modern young adults. I loved Stephen Chbosky’s Perks of Being a Wallflower, John Green’s Fault in Our Stars is one of the best books I’ve ever read, yet when it came to me and Laurel something just wouldn’t click. Ava Dellaria admitted that she was inspired Stephen Chbosky’s Perks and the author even mentored her. Yet somehow I could not get rid of a feeling that with all the brilliance of epistolary novels, “Love Letters” is just a weaker imprint of a wallflower, even though it tackles many much more serious subjects.

The main girl  character needs some serious help. Laurel is traumatized by the death of her sister – and the desire to be like her – to a point of obsession. You realize that the girl needs therapy midway throughout the book, or maybe even earlier. Her parents failed her. Throughout most of the novel she is weird, scared and clinging to the memory of her dead sister with all her might. She is also extremely passive in a lot of situations, Laurel pours out her soul to Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and others, yet mostly forgets to live. It leads to a series of dragged-out moments and it is especially sad when you come to the point when the full story of May’s death comes out. However, I must say that in the end it serves a good example that in the light of abuse, staying passive and silent could lead to absolutely devastating consequences.

And maybe what growing up really means is knowing that you don’t have to be just a character, going whichever way the story says. It’s knowing you could be the author instead.

Ultimately, “Love letters” sets out to tackle a series of very serious topics, however, the novel just does not deliver.

Overall rating:

The idea: 4*

The writing/plot: 3,5* max

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Review: Love letters to the dead

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