It has been a whirlwind of a couple weeks, I’ve gotta say. Despite all the ups and downs and I’m-not-sures, though, I managed to finish this book in three days flat. Three wonderful days of me getting home from work, popping some cheese and crackers and apple slices on a plate, and settling myself into my corner of the couch to delve into my new favorite novel.
That’s why I am writing today to tell you all why this wonderful book called Love Letters to the Dead should be the next thing you read. Not only was it written by Ava Dellaira, a fellow alumna of my high school, but it is also actually really, really that good.
Love Letters to the Dead is a story told completely in the form of letters that the main protagonist, Laurel, writes to various dead people. It begins as an English class homework assignment: write a letter to a dead person. Laurel is dealing with the very recent death of her older sister, May, and finds solace in communicating with the lost celebrities she continues to write to.
Soon, Kurt Cobaine, River Phoenix, Judy Garland, Jim Henderson, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and an assortment more, along with us privileged readers of their letters, learn all about the world of this girl who is just starting high school, trying to make new friends, falling in love for the first time, and dealing with a broken family and the loss of her big sister.
The metaphors that Dellaira sprinkles throughout the book actually seem to glitter, they are so moving and lovely. Her background as a poet truly shines through with her way with words. And Laurel’s grieving for her sister is so heartrending that I felt like I gained and lost a sister, all at once. I grieved for the big sister I never had to look up to, and along with Laurel for the one that she had to lose.
I felt with Laurel, too, the trepidation that is prominent when transitioning into high school. I was there with her, going to school between the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande, wondering how I was going to fit in, and whether a boy might ever want me in the same way I wanted him to. I felt a personal sense of joy in seeing my hometown simply flower as a setting with Dellaira’s careful descriptions.
It is hard to imagine that this is a debut novel. Ava Dellaira gives me hope as both a reader and a writer. I hope that one day I might weave a story that will mean enough to earn a cover, book tour, and bio about my path from the Academy to being a published author. What’s even more inspiring and wonderful is that Ava is a really lovely person, with incredible work ethic and an insight that translates perfectly in her writing. If that’s not enough, she’s good friends with Stephen Chbosky, who wrote The Perks of Being a Wallflower and made it into a film (which she helped produce. And if you aren’t familiar with that bit of work, I suggest you also do that. Now.) I had the opportunity to meet her at her book launch event at our alma mater, and was drawn to her humble and charming personality. I felt like we could have even been friends.
I felt like I could have been friends with Laurel and the group she finds herself in, too. This is a book that you finish and immediately want to re-read, to re-live. So go. Get the reading and re-reading started now. Go relish reading paragraph upon paragraph of beauty like this:
“…there is something fragile like moths inside of him, something fluttering. Something trying desperately to crowd toward a light. May was a real moon who everyone flocked to. But even if I am only Sky’s street lamp, I don’t mind. It’s enough to be what he moves toward. I love to feel the wings beat.”
“Maybe when we can tell the stories, however bad they are, we don’t belong to them anymore. They become ours. And maybe what growing up really means is knowing that you don’t have to just be a character, going whichever way the story says. It’s knowing that you could be the author instead.”
You can thank me later.