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

Love Letters to the Dead: A Novel

byAva Dellaira

Hardcover | April 1, 2014

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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 in this stunning debut from Ava Dellaira, Love Letters to the Dead.
Ava Dellaira is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. Love Letters to the Dead is her debut novel. She currently lives in Santa Monica.
Title:Love Letters to the Dead: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:336 pages, 8.48 × 5.78 × 1.17 inPublished:April 1, 2014Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0374346674

ISBN - 13:9780374346676


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful Emotional and beautiful!! I loved this book and Laurel's story. It brought tears to my eyes. Everyone should read this
Date published: 2018-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful! Dealing with the death of a loved one isn't easy. After reading her letters and understanding her life after the tragic death of her sister brought tears to my eyes by the time I got to the last page.
Date published: 2018-07-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Love Letters to the Dead I really liked the concept of this novel. I think there should have been a little more effort in the plot of what happened to her sister, but other than that I think it was a good story. It's a little slow at times, but I'd recommend it.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No I did not enjoy this book. It had an intriguing concept but then she was writing to all of these iconic people about her problems and her problems weren't that interesting.
Date published: 2018-06-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Really Good! The plot is really good and emotional. A little slow in the middle but totally worth it. <3
Date published: 2018-03-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice book This book reminded me a lot of Thirteen Reasons Why. If you enjoyed this book, I think you would like this too. It is a fast read, and I enjoyed it
Date published: 2017-12-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor Execution Which is a shame because the premise was intriguing. The characters are pretty cliche and the plot leaves much to be desired.
Date published: 2017-09-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good I found the writing too simple for my likings, but the format is very original and the story is good.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Letters to the Dead This is a stunningly beautiful book. I found it well-written and touching. The story unfolded with exactly the right timing and I never got impatient to find out what happened with May.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worth it! The writing was sometimes painful to read but the story was beautiful and haunting.
Date published: 2017-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Heart-wrenching but Beautiful I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Coping with loss is a topic that I find extremely interesting and I couldn't put this book down.
Date published: 2016-12-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Did not like The storyline hooked me in but the characters and plot development really didn't do it for me. I found that I was just annoyed most of the time especially by the main character who had the voice of a 10 year old and the insta-love with Sky when there was no real connection.
Date published: 2016-11-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Coping with Teenage Loss I read about Love Letters to the Dead in a number of places on the web and the idea of it intrigued me. I didn't know if I'd like it or not but it kept niggling away at me from the back of my mind so I finally bought it. Once I got into it, I had to keep reading to the end. Laurel's first english assignment at her new school is to write a letter to someone who's dead. She's pretty sure her teacher wants them to write to some historical figure but she has a different idea. Her sister, May, had died the previous April. She had been high and took a dive off the railway bridge where they used to play a game called "Pooh Sticks" when they were younger. Laurel admired her sister and is lost without her. She decides to write letters to twelve famous people who died too young, who, like her sister, were terribly talented, charismatic, and somewhat messed up, looking for something but they didn't know what. Laurel addresses her first letter to Kurt Cobain because he was her sister's favourite musician. She tells him all about her insecurities about starting high school and how her sister May would have known exactly what to do. She talks about her english assignment from the only teacher she knows at her new school. In her second letter, she tells him that she didn't hand the assignment in because there are some things that are too personal to share. When Laurel writes to Amy Winehouse and Judy Garland, she tells stories about her current life, how her mom left, and things she used to do with her sister. She's looking for answers about why people do things that cause them to die, and for answers about how to live her life now, without her big sister. She writes to Janis Joplin and River Phoenix as well. But it isn't until she finds the courage to write about bad things that happened to her because May hadn't really taken good care of her that she realizes her sister wasn't perfect and that she can learn from May's mistakes and create a life for herself, that her memory of May could be more balanced without diminishing her love for May. When I finished reading Love Letters to the Dead, I was still a bit unsure how I felt about it. As a Christian, I felt there should be other ways to find answers and get your head on straight again, but I also saw the cathartic nature of writing your ideas and questions down on paper, even if you're writing to someone who can't answer your questions. This is Ava Dellaira's debut novel and it was a very interesting story — one with many surprises including the ending. I'd recommend reading it before giving it to a teenager in your family — it might not be for everyone, and a certain maturity is required, I think, for someone to not get mired down in it. None-the-less, a worthwhile read.
Date published: 2016-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beautifully written letters to the dead Laurel is just entering grade 9. Her beloved sister, May, has just died. She gets an assignment from her English teacher to write a letter to someone who has died. Rather than writing letters to her sister Laurel writes letters to celebrities that have died such as Kurt Cobain, Amelia Earhart and Janis Joplin. The letters help her cope with all that has happened. This is a beautifully written book and I loved the concept of the letters. The book is quite sad though and parts were hard to read. I would recommend this book for grade 9 and up.
Date published: 2015-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love letters to the dead What a amazing book. How do we get past all this pain we carry in our lives and choose to live life. And not just go with the flow. What a beautiful tribute to a sister. Just read a beautiful story.
Date published: 2015-08-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great book I really hated to see this book come to an end but was most satisfied with the ending. This has much to say about the loss of a family member and the effects on everyone else in the family. Laurel can teach us all a few coping skills. I have passed my copy on to two other friends who love to read but I want it back for a reread!
Date published: 2014-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love Letters to the Dead This goes up there with Perks of Being a Wallflower! Such a great concept?
Date published: 2014-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Book What an amazing read. Would recommend this book to anyone. Laurel writes letters to dead celebrities in a therapeutic way to deal with her sister, May's tragic death. She continues to write about the struggles she faces through everyday life with friends, parents, and growing up. This book was beautifully written and I enjoyed every minute reading this book.
Date published: 2014-07-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Narration didn't quite work For a school assignment, Laurel must write a letter to someone who has passed away. She chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister May loved him and they both died too soon. Laurel finds herself writing letters to many dead celebrities, revealing everything from a new crush, new friendships to secrets like what would happen when she and May were supposed to be at the movies together. Through the letters, Laurel starts to accept what happened to her sister and maybe she can finally move on. I was really excited for this book because the concept sounded interesting. The whole book written in the style of letters to dead celebrities as a way to cope with the main character's sister's death? It sounded different and I like reading different narration styles, especially when they work well. Unfortunately, for me, there was a lot about the style that didn't end up working. The two major issues I had with the letter style narration. First, there was a lot of explaining the celebrity's life to them that just seemed strange. They lived through it, they don't need to be told they're parents divorced or they were in a movie. It was hard to lose myself in the story when all I could keep thinking was Laurel was listing off facts about their own lives to them. Second, because the whole story was in letters, a lot of the time it felt like we were getting a short recap of her day or a moment instead of something that felt a little more complete. That said, I did like how Laurel could take parts of what she knew or learned about the celebrities and apply it to her own life, and watching her slowly come to terms with what happened the night her sister died. Writing can be therapeutic and this was the first time I'd seen a character use it to such an extent. The side characters, and the depth they showed, was also really nice. I was worried about how characters other than Laurel would fare in a letter narration but Dellaira still managed to give them depth and show growth. While the narration didn't work for me, I think there'll be readers out there who will fall in love with it and with Laurel and her friends.
Date published: 2014-06-22

Read from the Book

 Dear Kurt Cobain,Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English today, to write a letter to a dead person. As if the letter could reach you in heaven, or at the post office for ghosts. She probably meant for us to write to someone like a former president or something, but I need someone to talk to. I couldn’t talk to a president. I can talk to you.I wish you could tell me where you are now and why you left. You were my sister May’s favorite musician. Since she’s been gone, it’s hard to be myself, because I don’t know exactly who I am. But now that I’ve started high school, I need to figure it out really fast. Because I can tell that otherwise, I could drown here.The only things I know about high school are from May. On my first day, I went into her closet and found the outfit that I remember her wearing on her first day—a pleated skirt with a pink cashmere sweater that she cut the neck off of and pinned a Nirvana patch to, the smiley face one with the x-shaped eyes. But the thing about May is that she was beautiful, in a way that stays in your mind. Her hair was perfectly smooth, and she walked like she belonged in a better world, so the outfit made sense on her. I put it on and stared at myself in front of her mirror, trying to feel like I belonged in any world, but on me it looked like I was wearing a costume. So I used my favorite outfit from middle school instead, which is jean overalls with a long-sleeve tee shirt and hoop earrings. When I stepped into the hall of West Mesa High, I knew right away this was wrong.The next thing I realized is that you aren’t supposed to bring your lunch. You are supposed to buy pizza and Nutter Butters, or else you aren’t supposed to even eat lunch. My aunt Amy, who I live with every other week now, has started making me iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiches on kaiser rolls, because that’s what we liked to have, May and I, when we were little. I used to have a normal family. I mean, not a perfect one, but it was Mom and Dad and May and me. Now that seems like a long time ago. But Aunt Amy tries hard, and she likes making the sandwiches so much, I can’t explain that they aren’t right in high school. So I go into the girls’ bathroom, eat the kaiser roll as quickly as I can, and throw the paper bag in the trash for tampons.It’s been a week, and I still don’t know anyone here. All the kids from my middle school went to Sandia High, which is where May went. I didn’t want everyone there feeling sorry for me and asking questions I couldn’t answer, so I came to West Mesa instead, the school in Aunt Amy’s district. This is supposed to be a fresh start, I guess.Since I don’t really want to spend all forty-three minutes of lunch in the bathroom, once I finish my kaiser roll I go outside and sit by the fence. I turn myself invisible so I can just watch. The trees are starting to rain leaves, but the air is still hot enough to swim through. I especially like to watch this boy, whose name I figured out is Sky. He always wears a leather jacket, even though summer is barely over. He reminds me that the air isn’t just something that’s there. It’s something you breathe in. Even though he’s all the way across the school yard, I feel like I can see his chest rising up and down.I don’t know why, but in this place full of strangers, it feels good that Sky is breathing the same air as I am. The same air that you did. The same air as May.Sometimes your music sounds like there’s too much inside of you. Maybe even you couldn’t get it all out. Maybe that’s why you died. Like you exploded from the inside. I guess I am not doing this assignment the way I am supposed to. Maybe I’ll try again later.Yours,LaurelDear Kurt Cobain,When Mrs. Buster asked us to pass our letters up at the end of class today, I looked at my notebook where I wrote mine and folded it closed. As soon as the bell rang, I hurried to pack my stuff and left. There are some things that I can’t tell anyone, except the people who aren’t here anymore.The first time May played your music for me, I was in eighth grade. She was in tenth. Ever since she’d gotten to high school, she seemed further and further away. I missed her, and the worlds we used to make up together. But that night in the car, it was just the two of us again. She put on “Heart-Shaped Box,” and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before.When May turned her eyes from the road and asked, “Do you like it?” it was as if she’d opened the door to her new world and was asking me in. I nodded yes. It was a world full of feelings that I didn’t have words for yet.Lately, I’ve been listening to you again. I put on In Utero, close the door and close my eyes, and play the whole thing a lot of times. And when I am there with your voice, it’s hard to explain it, but I feel like I start to make sense.After May died last April, it’s like my brain just shut off. I didn’t know how to answer any of the questions my parents asked, so I basically stopped talking for a little while. And finally we all stopped talking, at least about that. It’s a myth that grief makes you closer. We were all on our own islands—Dad in the house, Mom in the apartment she’d moved into a few years before, and me bouncing back and forth in silence, too out of it to go to the last months of middle school.Eventually Dad turned up the volume on his baseball games and went back to work at Rhodes Construction, and Mom left to go away to a ranch in California two months later. Maybe she was mad that I couldn’t tell her what happened. But I can’t tell anyone.In the long summer sitting around, I started looking online for articles, or pictures, or some story that could replace the one that kept playing in my head. There was the obituary that said May was a beautiful young woman and a great student and beloved by her family. And there was the one little article from the paper, “Local Teen Dies Tragically,” accompanied by a photo of flowers and things that some kids from her old school left by the bridge, along with her yearbook picture, where she’s smiling and her hair is shining and her eyes are looking right out at us.Maybe you can help me figure out how to find a door to a new world again. I still haven’t made any friends yet. I’ve actually hardly said a single word the whole week and a half I’ve been here, except “present” during roll call. And to ask the secretary for directions to class. But there is this girl named Natalie in my English class. She draws pictures on her arms. Not just normal hearts, but meadows with creatures and girls and trees that look like they are alive. She wears her hair in two braids that go down to her waist, and everything about her dark skin is perfectly smooth. Her eyes are two different colors—one is almost black, and the other is foggy green. She passed me a note yesterday with just a little smiley face on it. I am thinking that maybe soon I could try to eat lunch with her.When everyone stands in line at lunch to buy stuff, they all look like they are standing together. I couldn’t stop wishing that I was standing with them, too. I didn’t want to bother Dad about asking for money, because he looks stressed out whenever I do, and I can’t ask Aunt Amy, because she thinks I am happy with the kaiser rolls. But I started collecting change when I find it—a penny on the ground or a quarter in the broken soda machine, and yesterday I took fifty cents off of Aunt Amy’s dresser. I felt bad. Still, it made enough to buy a pack of Nutter Butters.I liked everything about it. I liked waiting in line with everyone. I liked that the girl in front of me had red curls on the back of her head that you could tell she curled herself. And I liked the thin crinkle of the plastic when I opened the wrapper. I liked how every bite made a falling-apart kind of crunch.Then what happened is this—I was nibbling a Nutter Butter and staring at Sky through the raining leaves. That’s when he saw me. He was turning to talk to someone. He went into slow motion. Our eyes met for a minute, before mine darted away. It felt like fireflies lighting under my skin. The thing is, when I looked back up, Sky was still looking. His eyes were like your voice—keys to a place in me that could burst open.Yours,LaurelDear Judy Garland,I thought of writing to you, because The Wizard of Oz is still my favorite movie. My mom would always put it on when I stayed home sick from school. She would give me ginger ale with pink plastic ice cubes and cinnamon toast, and you would be singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”I realize now that everyone knows your face. Everyone knows your voice. But not everyone knows where you were really from, when you weren’t from the movies.I can imagine you as a little girl on a December day in the town where you grew up on the edge of the Mojave Desert, tap-tap-tap-dancing onstage in your daddy’s movie theater. Singing your jingle bells. You learned right away that applause sounds like love.I can imagine you on summer nights, when everyone would come to the theater to get out of the heat. Under the refrigerated air, you would be up onstage, making the audience forget for the moment that there was anything to be afraid of. Your mom and dad would smile up at you. They looked the happiest when you were singing.Afterward, the movie would pass by in a blur of black and white, and you would get suddenly sleepy. Your daddy would carry you outside, and it was time to drive home in his big car, like a boat swimming over the dark asphalt surface of the earth.You never wanted anyone to be sad, so you kept singing. You’d sing yourself to sleep when your parents were fighting. And when they weren’t fighting, you’d sing to make them laugh. You used your voice like glue to keep your family together. And then to keep yourself from coming undone.My mom used to sing me and May to sleep with a lullaby. Her voice would croon, “all bound for morning town…” She would stroke my hair and stay until I slept. When I couldn’t sleep, she would tell me to imagine myself in a bubble over the sea. I would close my eyes and float there, listening to the waves. I would look down at the shimmering water. When the bubble broke, I would hear her voice, making a new bubble to catch me.But now when I try to imagine myself over the sea, the bubble pops right away. I have to open my eyes with a start before I crash. Mom is too sad to take care of me. She and Dad split up right before May started high school, and after May died almost two years later, she went all the way to California.With just Dad and me at our house, it’s full of echoes everywhere. I go back in my mind to when we were all together. I can smell the sizzle of the meat from Mom making dinner. It sparkles. I can almost look out the window and see May and me in the yard, collecting ingredients for our fairy spells.Instead of staying with Mom every other week like May and I did after the divorce, now I stay with Aunt Amy. Her house is a different kind of empty. It’s not full of ghosts. It’s quiet, with shelves set up with rose china, and china dolls, and rose soaps meant to wash out sadness. But always saved for when they are really needed, I guess. We just use Ivory in the bathroom.I am looking out the window now in her cold house, from under the rose quilt, to find the first star.I wish you could tell me where you are now. I mean, I know you’re dead, but I think there must be something in a human being that can’t just disappear. It’s dark out. You’re out there. Somewhere, somewhere. I’d like to let you in.Yours,Laurel Copyright © 2014 by Ava Dellaira

Editorial Reviews

"Reminiscent of Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this is powerfully emotional stuff." -BCCB"Dellaira's characters are authentically conceived and beautifully drawn." -The Horn Book"Best for teens who enjoyed Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower." -School Library Journal"Laurel and her friends' struggles and hard-won successes are poignant, and seeing Laurel begin to forgive herself and May is extremely moving." -Publishers Weekly"I simply loved this book. Love Letters to the Dead is more than a stunning debut. It is the announcement of a bold new literary voice." -Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower"A brilliant story about the courage it takes to keep living after your world falls apart. A heart-wrenching celebration of love and friendship and family." -Laurie Halse Anderson, author of Speak"With beautiful observations of where life can take us, from grieving to celebrating, disappointment to wonder, LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is a love letter to living." -Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why"Dear Ava Dellaira: Your book broke my heart, and pieced it back together. As with Kurt, Janis, Amelia and the others who are gone but still somehow here, LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD leaves an indelible mark." -Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay"As wondrous--and as fearless--as a shooting star." -Lauren Myracle, author, The Winnie Years"Riveting, captivating, utterly disarming. I could not put this book down! LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD is like discovering a shoebox full of notes addressed to someone else. I read fast, afraid I'd be caught peeking at something I wasn't ever supposed to see. A voyeuristic delight!" -Siobhan Vivian, author of The List"Effective and satisfyingly heartbreaking." -Kirkus Reviews