Love Letters to the Dead
Author: Ava Dellaira
Published: April 1st, 2014 by Farrar, Strous, and Giroux
Summary: 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 did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to 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 begin to discover her own path.
Review: Fans of The Perks of Being a Wallflower will fall in love with this story. After her sister’s death, Laurel feels broken. I just wanted to reach in the book and give her a big squeeze. As she writes letters to the dead, she grows and learns more about herself. While most high schoolers may not have experienced a loss like Laurel’s, I think every teen will be able to see themselves in her. Her characterization is authentic and honest. I am including several passages (below) from the book. Rather than describe the power of this book, I want you to get lost in Dellaira’s words.
Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: It may seem a rather obvious assignment for this book, but I think students would truly learn about themselves by writing letters to the dead. I would probably pair this with a mini-research assignment. For example, Laurel knows background information about the people she writes to. She uses this knowledge to make connections to her life.
Discussion Questions: How does Laurel grieve? How does this differ from her parents’ grieving processes?; What commonalities exist across the people Laurel writes to? What specific connections does she make with them?; Do you think Laurel is ready for a romantic relationship? Why or why not?
We Flagged: I can’t help myself. Enjoy the beautiful quotes below. I apologize that there aren’t page numbers, but I wrote the location in the e-book!
“Maybe if I can learn to be more like her, I will know how to be better at living without her.” (Loc 185, 5%)
“I think a lot of people want to be someone, but we are scared that if we try, we won’t be as good as everyone imagines we could be.” (Loc 1651. 43%)
“When we are in love, we are both completely in danger and completely saved.” (Loc 1763, 46%)
“Truth is beautiful, no matter what the truth is. Even if it’s scary or bad. It is beauty simply because it’s true. And truth is bright. Truth makes you more you. I want to be me.” (Loc 1969, 51%)
“I have found that sometimes, moments get stuck in your body. They are there, lodged under your skin like hard seed-stones of wonder of sadness or fear, everything else growing up around them.” (Loc 2153, 56%)
“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself—and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to—letting a person be what he really is.” (Loc 3117, 81%).
Read This If You Loved: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson