Khanh the Killjoy

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Love Letters to the Dead - Ava Dellaira

Ok, so I lied. A review tonight after all.

Dear Kurt Cobain,
Mrs. Buster gave us our first assignment in English today, to write a letter to a dead person.

For me, this book was pointless, puerile, and pretentious with a character who is the passive, dull YA Contemporary equivalent of Bella or Luce.

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.

The main character was simultaneously too naive and juvenile, while never letting me forget that behind this character, there is an adult writing this book.

On my first day...I used my favorite outfit from middle school instead, which is jean overalls with a long-sleeve tee shirt and hoop earrings.

I could not bring myself to care about the extremely dull character, who has no character and no personality of her own, who comes off as a girl who's only too willing to be pulled along by peer pressure.

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.

This book goes nowhere. It is a diary of a high school girl, Laurel, who's lost her sister, May. Laurel's despair over May's death is tremendously subtle, and so suppressed that I can hardly tell she's grieving at all.

I guess I am not doing this assignment the way I am supposed to. Maybe I’ll try again later.

No shit.

The point is that there was no point to this book. If I wanted to read about a main character that I can't relate to, whose grief isn't even present, who falls in love too easily, who lets herself be completely bent by peer pressure, who can't really relate to her family...WHY DO I NEED TO PAY MONEY FOR IT? If I wanted to read the diary of a really immature young woman, I can just go onto Tumblr or DeviantArt or Livejournal (does anyone use Livejournal anymore?) and browse through any amount of adolescent frippery for free. And I can stop when I want to!

The Premise: This book is written in a series of letters to dead characters, musicians, poets, actors. It reads like a slightly less silly version of a 12-year old fangirl writing letters to One Direction or Justin Bieber.

Dear Amy Winehouse,
Your fearlessness seemed like it came from a different time. When your first album was released, you still looked innocent, a pretty girl who said she thought she was ugly.
You would step onstage in your little dress, sipping a drink, with your big beehive hairdo and Cleopatra eyeliner, and sing with a voice that poured out of your tiny body. You were willing to expose yourself without caring what anyone thought. I wish I was more like that.

And 95% of the book is about Laurel, not the artists. To be fair, I didn't want it to be, because the information I got from these artists from these silly, juvenile "letters" aren't anything I wouldn't have gleaned from 5 minutes on Wikipedia or Daily Mail UK.

The Actual Letters: A few paragraphs on the artists themselves, and then a million pages (or so it felt like) of a teenaged girl rambling on about:

1. Skyyyyyyyyyy. Skyyyyyyyyyy <3333333

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.

2. Her family, dad, mom, crazy Bible-thumping Aunt Amy
3. Her lesbian friends
4. Her cool older friends who are like, so awesome, and, like, so into each other, and like, so into music!

Dear Janis Joplin,
When I got home today, I looked up about Slash, and I also looked up about your life, so that I can start my education, and so that I can be friends with Tristan and Kristen.
When Kristen and I are better friends, I am going to ask her to play me some of your music.

5. Her sister. I guess.

The "letters" follow this pattern for the entire fucking book:

Dear ______,

I think you're really cool because _______. I imagine that you must have been like _________ growing up. I think your dreams must have been like the wings of an angel sparkling with unicorn horns and butterfly dreams that never got fulfilled.

Today I went to lunch with my friends. I thought about Sky a lot.

Then I talked to my friends. Then I watched them kiss. Then I pretended that I didn't see them kiss. I went home to talk to my really sad dad, and I reflected upon how sad he is and how much I miss him. And May. But I'm not going to think about May. I'm not going to tell you anything about how she died. I'm going to let you have the impression that I love her even if I don't say it. I'm going to give you the impression that I care about her without ever implicitly mentioning her.

Sky is really hot.

______, you must have been so cool to know while you were alive.



Laurel: She reminds me a lot of Lara Jean from Jenny Han's To All the Boys I've Loved Before, which is to say, she's innocent as fuck, she's naive as fuck, and even if she's old enough to get to 3rd (and then some) base with her boyfriend, and drink, and do illegal shit, she's just there for the ride. Laurel is not a leader. She is a follower. She does things because people tell her to. If this book were an YA paranormal, Laurel would be the equivalent of Bella Swan because she fucking does nothing in the book unless someone drags her into it.

She is a good girl, an innocent girl who drinks and do stupid stuff like ask strangers to buy her alcohol because her (cool) friends tell her to. And she really, really wants to be friends with them. She is desperate to be loved, and I couldn't give a flying fuck about that. Spare me your dull I-have-problems-that-I-won't-talk-about mental issues; I want a girl twisted and torn by grief, I don't want a passive little fluffy bunny, even if that bunny occasionally indulges in some cannabis-laced carrots.

Inconsistent Writing: I could not get immersed in Laurel's character because she has such an inconsistent voice. In some parts of her narrative Laurel sounds like s 12-year old.

- 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.

- When I got the shirt, secretly I had hoped that Sky would notice me in it and see who I could be. Maybe he’d feel a pang of regret over losing me.

- It had my name on the back. It was perfect. He had sanded the wood down so it was smooth, but the grains don’t go away. I told him it was my favorite present I’d ever gotten. He looked proud.

And then she starts spouting off philosophical crap and imageries out of freaking nowhere, and I'm left wondering who am I reading, the character or the author trying to write a poetic teen who's not convincing in the least?

- 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.

- 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.

- I think Hannah must be afraid like I get afraid, the way I did when I heard the river yesterday, the way I do when I don’t even know what the shadow is, but I feel it breathing.

Laurel's narrative voice just did not work for me. I can't take a 12-going on 40 year old poet.

The Romance: Zero spark. Zero chemistry. About as convincing as the romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and whatever barely-legal Victoria's Secret supermodel he's dating now.

Everyone loves Laurel. Out of nowhere, the most popular guy in school asks her out, and not only that, she got the attention of Sky, the loner who never talks to anyone.

And although he has license to stand with the cool kids, he still doesn’t fully belong anywhere and hasn’t relinquished his title of Mr. Mystery. Hence the throng of girls who are always leaning in and touching his arm. But of course, my money’s on you.”

He's a cool loner, the one who never cares about anyone, until he meets Laurel. It is insta-love for her, and Sky falls for Laurel remarkably fast, considering Laurel never does or say anything fucking remarkable. But I guess 17-year old boys are easily impressed.

“You’d be a really great writer,” I said.
“Oh yeah? How do you know?”
“By the way you talk. Like when you said that Kurt is so loud because he’s staring the monster in the face, and how you’ve got to fight back.”

Final Comments: The grief over May's death just isn't there. Sure, Laurel is supposed to be really, really sad about May, considering she died, but I never felt her sadness. It is a matter of telling, not showing. You could argue that Laurel is suppressing her grief really well, but why the fuck would I want to read a book about that? It's the equivalent of reading a romance novel where the main character absolutely refuses to fall in love against all reason. I know those books exist. I don't like them!

Some truly bad things happen to Laurel in this book, and guess what? I don't care. I want to care. I'm not a callous person, but you have to make me FEEL something for the character. I could not relate to her. I could not sympathize with her. I did not like her. I can't bring myself to hurt for her when she is damaged.
Not recommended.