What begins as an assignment for English class spirals into something much more for Laurel. She was supposed to write a letter to a dad person, and she ends up writing a ton of letters to a bunch of dead people. She starts with Kurt Cobain, because her sister May loved him so much. And they both died young, so it felt symmetrical. But then Laurel starts writing to other people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Heath Ledger. As she writes these letters, she spills her secrets, long kept to herself, about what happened the night May died.
An eye-catching cover, intriguing title, and interesting premise can’t save this book from its overwritten, uneven execution. Epistolary novels are always difficult because they’re inherently one-sided. An epistolary novel where the letter recipients can’t even write back because they are dead is decidedly even more one-sided. While there is some good here: Laurel is an introspective girl who makes for a mostly-authentic narrator, the book gets bogged down in its own telling, making for a slog of a read.
The result is kind of boring, as much as it pains me to say it. There’s something gimmicky about the execution of the book, too, although it’s hard to place what it is, exactly, that makes it feel this way. Perhaps its the feeling of nostalgia that winds its way through the narrative? It feels disingenuous? Not all readers will pick up on this, but more will find themselves frustrated by how slowly Laurel reveals herself.
That is a large part of the book’s problem, too: Laurel is so slow to give readers a glimpse into her tragic past that by the time she arrives at the night May died, the ending of the book feels rushed. It makes for a jarring end to a novel that is otherwise incredibly slow and deliberate. Tighter editing would have helped with this; the book feels overly long at just over 300 pages.
Perhaps the most distracting aspect of this novel is how similar in tone and execution it is to Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This is compounded by the fact that Chbosky blurbed this one. It might find some readers who don’t mind the slow-as-molasses pace, but this is definitely not a stand-out.
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: 2014. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.