AP’s Review of Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira
If you’re a fan of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, you’re going to have repeated moments of deja vu while reading this one. Yet, if you’re a fan of Perks, I can also tell you that you will enjoy Ava Dellaria’s Love Letters to the Dead. Walking in the footsteps of Stephen Chbosky, Dellaira’s take stands partially in the shadow of Perks, but emerges its own tale as you learn about the beautifully tragic lives of Laurel, a high school freshman, her friends, family, and her dead sister, May.
It starts out as an assignment in English Class– write a letter to a dead person. While you may think that this book would be about correspondences with Laurel’s dead sister, May, it’s far from it. Struggling to find her own identity and to cope with the tragic loss of May, Laurel begins to write to people, celebrities, that May loved– Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, etc. Through these letters, you witness Laurel’s struggle, her growth, her relationships, and slowly, you learn pieces of the story of her sister, May. May’s story is devastating to both Laurel and the reader and is a harrowing look inside the world of peer pressure and growing up.
In preparing to write this review, I looked at some other reviews of this book. I, like many other reviewers out there, had a difficult time really putting my finger on exactly how I felt about this book. At first, I thought it was a little strange, too fragmented, and too much an attempt to be like Perks without some of the amazing language and insight that Chbosky provides to the reader. With that, getting into the book was a little difficult. However, I finally decided to give it a real try and eventually ended up liking the book a lot. It’s not my favorite from this year, but if you’re a Perks fan, into tales that are a little bit darker, YA, or just simply need a good cry (lord knows I needed one)– I definitely recommend this book.
Some reviewers have complained about the format of the book: Dear Famous Person, I like you and I have some problems I’d like to tell you about. Okay fine, I hear the criticism loud and clear. But something I actually appreciated about the book was the format in which Laurel reveals her life and struggles to the reader. Admittedly, I am not really a huge Kurt Cobain or Amy Winehouse fan. For that reason, I loved the introduction to each celebrity Laurel wrote to. It allowed me to learn a little bit more about these people and it allowed me to really get lost in the beautiful parallels Dellaira drew between the complications of Laurel’s life and the ultimate ending of each of these dead celebrities she wrote to.
If you haven’t read The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I’d recommend you start there before jumping into Love Letters to the Dead. While I did enjoy this book, I do not have the same emotional connection to it as I do with Perks. Maybe that is because of the facially apparent similarities between the two stories. Maybe it’s because of the sense of voice Dellaira struggled to find initially (however, as the book progressed, I feel like she did finally find her footing).
I will say this: Love Letters to the Dead is worth the read if you’re a YA, gothic romance, or Perks fan. It’s also worth the read for the reason that I really think Dellaria is going to go places with her writing. They always tell writers to model their voice after another author they like, or to try and craft a plot like something they love and make it their own. It is a critical part in the development of writers in order to become their own. From there, writers grow and find themselves when they become secure in their own abilities. I really hope Love Letters to the Dead is that moment for Dellaira. If so, I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.