Dellaira, A. (2014). Love letters to the Dead. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Plot Summary: Laurel has to write a letter to someone who is deceased for a school assignment but she does not turn in her letter instead she keeps writing and fills a whole notebook with these letters. By the end of the school year these stories tell the story of her friends and family and her sisters death. During the school year Laurel befriends two girls who are in love but can’t admit it, a mysterious boy who falls in love with her but breaks up with her because she can not open up to him, and an senior couple who takes care of her as they prepare to graduate. All of her friends are dealing with their own sorrow in different ways and open up to Laurel when she finally tells them about her sisters death. Laurel’s sister May died after Laurel revealed that a friend of May’s had been molesting her when May left them alone together so she could go on dates with her older boyfriend. The sisters were on a bridge and Laurel is unsure if May slipped, jumped, or was blown off the bridge by the wind. Once she tells her friends and family what happened that night everyone opens up about their own problems and come together and support each other. The book has a beautiful ending with one last letter Laurel writes to May after having a dream about her.
Critical Evaluation: This book is entirely composed of letters Laurel wrote to different dead celebrities. This format shows Laurel’s inner thoughts so readers get a good sense of her character development as she figures out how to trust and open up to her friends. The story also shows the character development of her friends most notably Natalie and Hannah. These friends are obviously in love with each other and Laurel catches them kissing or making out on several occasions. Laurel watches as their friendship becomes more strained as Hannah tries to shoe Natalie how much she loves her and Natalie pushes her away by dating terrible boyfriends. This comes to big confrontation when Laurel accidentally exposes them making out at a party and then runs away. After this incident all three girls stop talking until Laurel opens up about what happened that night. She had been drugged and was looking for her friends for help but panicked when she heard people talking about the girls as she knew she ruined their secret. Once Laurel opens up Natalie admits that her brother hits her and threatened her after hearing about her making out with a girl. This explains her behavior throughout the book and the girls are able to support each other. Natalie moves out of her house and starts dating Hannah openly after this. This plot line really shows how the girls friendship develops and how they support each other. Laurel’s family also steadily grows closer throughout the story as Laurel becomes more open about how she is feeling and lets her family know what happened to her. As Laurel becomes more open in her letters she finds a way to become more open in her life to great effect.
Reader’s Annotation: When Laurel doesn’t turn in her letter to a dead person for her English assignment she is inspired to keep writing and in doing so reveals more than she originally intended.
Author Information: Ava Dellaira currently lives in Santa Monica California and works in the film industry. This is the first book she has published and her inspiration begin with Nirvana’s In Utero album which she listened to on repeat as a teen while writing in her journal.
Genre: realistic fiction
Curriculum Ties: It would be very interesting to have a class read this book and then write their own letters to the dead.
Booktalk Ideas: 1) How do the people around Laurel express their grief?
2) Why doesn’t Laurel want to discuss her sisters death, is it just because she feels guilty?
Reading Level & Interest Level: The reading and interest level for this book is listed as ages 12-17. This seems appropriate though there is some mature content in the story there is nothing graphic. That said I would still be more likely to recommend this book to readers in high school due to this content.
Challenge Issues: The book describes both consensual sex and molestation which some people may object to. These scenes are not graphic and are central to the plot line. The description of the molestation in the book may be triggering for some readers but others may feel empowered by Laurel’s decision to admit what happened to her and be comforted by the support she receives. There are also multiple scenes that feature two girls kissing or making out and some people may object to LGBTQ content. It is however important to include such content for a well rounded and diverse collection. The Book has received good reviews and is currently a nominee for the ALA Tens Top Ten for 2015.
Why is it included?: This is another book from the 2015 ALA Teens Top Ten Nominee list.