MK’s Book Reviews: Love Letters to the Dead


I loved this book. You should read it.

This book is often compared to The Perks of Being a Wallflower (which is one of my top 10 books of all time). In fact, Stephen Chobsky was Ava Dellaira’s mentor (how did she manage that? Can he mentor me too?)

The similarities are pretty striking: shy teenager (though in Dellaira’s case it’s a girl) writing letters to a person/people who don’t or can’t write back, spilling out her heart in poetic prose as she navigates her first year of high school. Like in Perks, she’s suffered a loss recently, and there are also hints to something that happened to her that you don’t find out about until later.

I’m a sucker for lost teenage protagonists. Maybe it’s because the first time I read The Catcher in the Rye it was the first time I felt like someone understood me. Maybe it’s because I will never forget what it’s like to be an angsty teenager. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown into an angsty adult. Whatever it is, books like this tug at me.

Epistolary novels are tricky what with the balance between show and tell (I just tried writing one myself, and gave up). But Ava Dellaira makes it work. Some of the exposition is a little awkward–she’s writing to these famous people and telling them how they lived and how they died, like they wouldn’t already know. But her beautiful prose overshadows any flaws.

Another thing: as much as I love angsty teenager books, I find it a little overdone that each teenager has to have had something horrible happen to them in the past to make them the way they are. You can be an angsty teenager without having a tragic past. I understand tragedy makes you sympathize with the character faster, but I’d like to see a book like this where the lost protagonist has basically had a normal life. (Maybe that’s why I’m writing one.)

Regardless, you should read this book. Here’s why:

1. Ava Dellaira is a beautiful writer:

“And if you wear leather pants, and have a beautiful body, and drink lots of expensive wine, and if your voice sounds like the edge you strike a match on, then these things are blocks that you have given them to build the person they want.”

2. She understands exactly why I became a writer:

“So maybe when we can say things, when we can write the words, when we can express how it feels, we aren’t so helpless.”

3. She has also taken the sum of my shy adolescent self, and summed it up into one sentence:

“I want people to know me, but if anyone could look inside of me, if they saw that everything I feel is not what it’s supposed to be, I don’t know what would happen.”

Go read this book!

Photo by Alona Po on Unsplash

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