Love Letters to the Dead

Ava Dellaira. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-374-34667-6
Everything Laurel knows about high school, she learned from her older sister, but after May’s death, Laurel has to start freshman year on her own. After getting an assignment to write to someone who’s died, Laurel keeps going, and the book is structured as a journal in letters to Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Judy Garland, and others. Laurel uses the letters to talk about both the past and the unfolding present, especially the friends she makes, who are also struggling with the problems that played a role in May’s life and death. Debut author Dellaira gives Laurel a poet’s eye: when she first makes eye contact with the boy she has a crush on, it feels like “fireflies lighting under my skin.” Although Dellaria writes beautifully, the pervading melancholy feels one-note at times, and the letter format can get wearying, especially when Laurel tells the recipients about their own careers, the epistolary equivalent of expository dialogue. That said, Laurel and her friends’ struggles and hard-won successes are poignant, and seeing Laurel begin to forgive herself and May is extremely moving. Ages 12–up. Agent: Richard Florest, Rob Weisbach Creative Management. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/10/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
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