Shortly after I finished Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead, my boyfriend turned to me and asked, “So how was your book?”
My reply came out, short and quiet: “Sad.”
As I read, most of it in just one afternoon, I found myself curling deeper into my chair and huddling beneath a blanket in the middle of May, trying to find comfort and coziness to abate the pure sadness that came from the pages. Please don’t think that you shouldn’t read this book because it might make you cry or, in some cases, downright uncomfortable. In fact, I would highly recommend this book. Glowing recommendation! Rave review here! But first, let’s look at what it’s even about.
What starts as a fairly tame homework assignment–write a letter to a famous dead person–turns into something much bigger for our narrator, Laurel. The school year following the death of Laurel’s sister finds her alone at a new school. She quickly befriends both the deceased recipients of her letters as well as two girls, Natalie and Hannah, who act as a bit of a catalyst for Laurel’s experiences throughout the novel. While she (generally) has a good time with her new friends–and of course a love interest because why not–underneath Laurel’s shell is a secret that goes beyond her sister’s death.
On the one hand, I felt like Laurel was such a naive character, and sometimes it bothered me. I don’t believe that’s a fault of the writing, though, but rather the simple fact that lately I’ve read a lot of books (and watched a lot of movies) with “strong female characters.” It was a change for me to encounter the voice of a girl who’s more innocent and reserved, but ultimately it worked. It fit with who she was, what she felt, what she experienced. Not everyone will go through something like she did and come out a hardened person, like you often see in the formation of “strong female characters.” They don’t have to be angry or vengeful to be strong, and as it turns out, Laurel’s quiet, perceptive nature is her own strength.
I think my favorite relationships were between Laurel and the other girls in the novel. Natalie and Hannah are a challenge for her at times while dealing with their own struggles (which were intriguing in their own right); Kristen, one half of a senior couple she befriends, appears as someone Laurel looks up to. The guys of the novel are okay, but I generally felt lukewarm about the love interest himself, even if the scenes with him were interesting at times (particularly with his mother–see? Interesting ladies!). Overall, the relationships were one of the strongest points in the novel for me.
Really, the whole novel was this beautiful, sad piece of work for me, but I found myself rooting for Laurel throughout. I wanted her to be happy, for everything to work out. I felt protective of her, even when she was frustrating, though that didn’t happen often. Dellaira gave me someone I cared about, which is always a plus in a novel. Sure, a novel can be good even if you don’t care much for the protagonist, but I always find it a little more heartfelt and satisfying when I do.
I do want to end this review with a trigger warning for the book, though, as it talks about various types of abuse and assault. I don’t have personal experience with those things, but I was very uncomfortable and found myself having to skim through a page or so at one point, so I don’t want anyone to get thrown into it without warning.