Love Letters to the Dead: A Novel, by Ava Dellaira

Lauren lives in the vacuum of a sister who died. We’re not sure why she died but the loss of sister May has taken over and split her family. In an English class an assignment is given to write to someone from history. That becomes the basis of the series of letters that make up this book.

The letters begin with Kurt Cobain and then continue on to Judy Garland, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, along with poets like John Keats and e.e. cummings, even Amelia Earhart.

Through the letters a story unfolds of Lauren in a new school and making new friends as well as a love interest with a boy named Sky. We learn that her mother has left and Lauren moves back and forth between weekly stays with her father and her mother’s sister.

The book ends up being a steel-eyed appraisal of Lauren’s life. Her new friends are exploring a lesbian relationship with one more clearly interested than the other. Lauren faces issues with date rape, drinking, drugs, and passion for Sky. Through the story the truth about May’s death is exposed bit by bit.

It’s a very well-written book. The prose is excellent and the writing is intelligent. The story is engrossing without being prurient. Dellaira also sets an undercurrent in the book with the selection of the dead Lauren writes to; many died too young or faced painful lives but left a phenomenal legacy, all are missed as much as Lauren misses her sister. Dellaira incorporates poetry into the book in profound ways and never dumbs-down the book. It may be the most intelligent YA book I’ve ever read.

I live in Idaho and know there are probably many parents who don’t want to expose their children to books with such heavy topics. I have always had the opinion that many face these things in life and books often help sort through the issues and offer a sense of hope and quell a sense of solitude. I would probably not put the book into the hands of a child without some maturity but it’s a book that I’m sure would connect to ┬ásomeone ready for it at a deep level.