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. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to the dead—to people like Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Amelia Earhart, and Amy Winehouse—though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating the choppy waters of new friendships, learning to live with her splintering family, falling in love for the first time, and, most important, trying to grieve for May. But how do you mourn for someone you haven’t forgiven?
It’s not until Laurel has written the truth about what happened to herself that she can finally 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 truly start to discover her own path.
I sense a pattern in my book choices. The last three books (All The Bright Places, Rebel Belle and including this one) I’ve read have been about a female main character whose sister has died. That sounds a bit morbid and repetitive. Anyway, on with the review:
Warning: Mild spoilers
I think this was a good book despite my rating, the irony! I’ll explain my reasons why. I see why a lot of people loved it and why a lot of people disliked it. I have very mixed and conflicted feelings about it. Did I love it? No. Did I like it? No. Did I hate it? Not exactly, but did I dislike it? Yes.
Laurel is a very dull character with no personality, as it seems. She spoke in a very passive and monotone voice, which doesn’t make me want to enjoy her letters. All her letters were really repetitive. It starts with ‘Dear famous person’ she’ll talk about them, like a biography – telling the famous person what they already know, for e.g. “Your parents got divorced when you were nine.” Then she’ll talk about school, new friends and how she misses her sister. How attractive Sky is and how much she wanted to kiss Sky. I don’t know how this is relevant to the famous person, but I think her writing these letters was her way of dealing with her grief.
Sometimes there were juvenile lines like this:
“For the first time in forever, it feels like I have magical powers – the ones that May taught me about when we were little. With Sky, I can make the scary stuff disappear.” How old is Laurel? Ten?!
Laurel lived in the shadow of her sister; she looked up to her and just followed her everywhere. Clearly May was quite messed up. They played the dead game, and this is where you lie on the road anticipating for a car to come. That is a death wish, who’d want to play a game like that?! May pretending to be a fairy with wings was quite manipulative. I’m not sure whether May actually believed she was a fairy, as in she had metal health issues or knew she was lying to Laurel about it just to make them seem like special sisters. She often dumped Laurel on Paul’s friend, whilst May can hang out with Paul. Wow, what a wonderful sister.
The writing is lyrical and very poetic, which is what was good about it. For example:
“The thing is, when I looked back up, Sky was looking. His eyes were like your voice – keys to a place in me that could burst open.”
“I reached out and put my arms around his body. It was then that I could feel that the moths in him, with their wings so paper-thin, will never be near enough to the light. They will always want to be nearer – to be inside of it. It was then that I could feel the lost thing in him. I wanted to put my hand on his chest, against his heart and touch all the way inside his beating.”
Unfortunately instalove is very much present in this book. Why does it exist in YA? I fail to see the attraction between Laurel and Sky. They absolutely zero chemistry and zero development. How did this happen? I mean I’m all for love is in the air young romance, but you’ve got to be kidding me. When they first meet, it was like a Bella and Edward moment – they just kept staring at each other and having these intense gazes. The next thing you know they’re in Sky’s truck together and he has his hand on her thigh and she’s just okay with it. Another thing she was okay with was that she didn’t mind if Sky thinking about having sex with her. RIGGHT. I question what Sky saw in Laurel because I honestly have no clue whatsoever. I also question whether Laurel is just naïve or stupid. It seems that she only likes Sky because he’s hot and wears a leather jacket. Shallowness. Sky is a very one-dimensional character.
Another thing that really bothered me: 24 or 25 year olds who are into 15 year olds! Like I said I am all for romance but there is something wrong with that. It was like this book was promoting paedophilia and that’s not okay.
Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my all time favourite books. It is the reason why I decided to read Love Letters to the Dead but it feels like a carbon copy. Laurel is a girl version of Charlie; Natalie and Hannah are basically Sam and Patrick, but in love. I see no originality about it, but that’s just my opinion. I think that’s the reason why Stephen Chbosky praised it, because he is Dellaira’s mentor and also it was inspired by his own book.
Charlie from Perks was just so downright adorable, seemed a bit naïve but he is intelligent and I enjoyed reading his letters so much – I didn’t want it to end! Charlie had so many interests that adds to his personality such as mixed tapes, indie music (The Smiths), favourite books (To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Catcher in the Rye) and typewriters. The quotes are just wonderful! Laurel, on the other hand… I realised that I have no idea what Laurel is even interested in, apart from unhealthy snacks like Nutter Butters and infatuated by Sky. She is only fourteen after all, therefore vulnerable to caring what other people think and is easily influenced by peer pressure. For example:
“The next thing I realized is that you aren’t supposed to being your lunch. You are suppose to buy pizza and Nutter Butters, or else you aren’t supposed to eat.” Now that just sounds really really stupid! EAT WHAT YOU WANT TO EAT.
The title is not even about love letters. It’s about long diary entries. Prior finishing, I knew which direction it was heading. If you have already read Perks, then you can imagine the similar writing structure. Dellaria included wayyy too many topics in one book and I don’t think it worked; it felt a bit overbearing.
The only positive points I can say about this book are the introduction to dead famous people I haven’t heard of such as River Phoenix, Judy Garland, Amelia Earheart, Janis Joplin, Allan Lane. I’ve heard of Joaquin Phoenix but not his brother, River Phoenix. Laurel only writes to Kurt Cobain because May was a fan of his music. In one of her letters to him, she writes it in a contempt way blaming Kurt for killing himself and selfishly leaving his daughter behind.
The last three or four letters was actually quite good, but why did I have to wait this long to find it kind of good? The secondary characters, such as Tristan & Kristen and Natalie & Hannah – they were a bit more interesting than our main character. The ending was good, as it gave closure with Laurel coming terms with what happened to her and it was written very well. Sometimes the writing can be a bit silly and juvenile but the lyrical description is very well done. Dellaira is obviously a very skilled writer and does have a lot of potential.
I am sad not to have liked it because if I loved Perks, then surely I should have liked this book, right?! Sadly not. There are good and bad points about it, but unfortunately this was not the book for me. I was pretty much settled on a 2 star rating but since the last quarter of the book was quite good and impressed me a little, I thought perhaps it deserves a 2.5 stars instead. I know I am quite harsh on my ratings. I would highly recommend the Perks of Being a Wallflower because it is a lot better!
Nonetheless I think I would recommend Love Letters to the Dead if you want to read a story about a girl coping with the loss of her sister through letters. Bear in mind, Laurel is quite…dull, but that’s just my opinion.