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Literature / Love Letters to the Dead

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Love Letters to the Dead is a young adult novel published by Ava Dellaira in 2014.

Laurel is just starting out as a high school freshman, having transferred to a new school after the death of her older sister May only a few months prior. Her first assignment in English class is to write a letter to a dead person. She chooses Kurt Cobain, whom May loved. Rather than turn in the assignment, Laurel keeps it and writes additional letters to him and a growing list of other dead people. In these letters, Laurel writes about her experiences navigating high school, her family, making friends, and falling in love for the first time. She also reveals details about her past and her relationship with May, and it becomes apparent that her memory of her sister is strained due to something that happened before she died. Before Laurel can move on from the loss of May, she first has to face the truth about what happened to herself.


Love Letters to the Dead contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Situation: It isn't made clear whether or not May's death was an accident, as Laurel isn't sure if she jumped off the bridge, let herself fall, or was knocked into the river by the wind.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Hannah thinks "Laurel" is the coolest name ever.
  • Big Brother Bully: Hannah's older brother Jason is introduced as having a short temper and she is visibly scared of him. It is later revealed that he physically abuses her, being responsible for the bruise on her cheek.
  • Bittersweet Ending: May is still dead and Laurel's mom isn't moving back in. However, she tells her mom the truth about the night May died and starts seeing a therapist to deal with what happened to her, and it's implied that she and Sky will get back together. Also, Hannah moves in with Natalie to get away from her abusive brother.
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  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: It first appears that this will be the case with Sky and Laurel, with Sky being mysterious and brooding and Laurel being shy and sweet. However, these roles are flipped when it becomes apparent that Laurel is far more troubled than she first appears, and Sky tries his best to help her through her emotional turmoil. It eventually becomes too much for him to handle and he breaks things off with her.
  • Cool Big Sis: Laurel spends much of the novel giving off the impression that her older sister May was perfect, and it's clear that May cared about her a lot, but eventually Laurel has to acknowledge that May had her flaws and reconcile the anger she feels towards her following her death.
  • Driven to Suicide: Possibly. Laurel isn't sure whether May's death was an accident (since she was drunk at the time) or if the shock of what she told her broke her and she jumped.
  • Erudite Stoner: Tristan, and to a lesser extent, Kristen. They both have long hair and a hippie sense of style, and Tristan is prone to philosophical musings while high.
  • Epistolary Novel: The entire novel is told as a series of letters Laurel writes to various public figures who have passed away.
  • Fiery Redhead: Hannah has bright red locks, and she is the most fervent of the bunch.
  • Grief-Induced Split: Laurel's mother left for California prior to the start of the novel, after the death of Laurel's older sister, May.
  • I Just Want to Be You!: Laurel heavily idolizes May, wearing her clothes and consciously trying to be more like her. By the end she has accepted that while she will never be just like May, she doesn't have to be, because people will love her for who she is.
  • Parental Abandonment: Laurel's mother left and moved to California after May's death prior to the start of the novel, and her only contact with Laurel is over the phone. She eventually moves back into town and stays with Aunt Amy to spend more time with Laurel, but it is unclear whether she will move back in permanently.
    • There's also Hannah's parents, who died in a car accident, leaving her to live with her grandparents.
  • Parents as People: Laurel's dad comes home tired most days but still tries his best to provide for Laurel after her mother left, her mom doesn't feel equipped to raise her anymore, Natalie's mom often stays out late on dates and doesn't return home until the next morning, and Sky's mother seems to suffer from a mental illness.
  • The Reveal: Laurel was molested several times by Paul's friend Billy when she and May would sneak out to the movies. For a while she is convinced that telling May about it directly led to her death, as she fell into the river right after.
  • Shout-Out: Most of Laurel's letters are to musicians, actors, and writers, so naturally there are plenty of references to their work.
    • Kurt Cobain is the most prominent, with Laurel and May having a special relationship with him and his music, the song "Heart-Shaped Box" in particular.
    • She is also quite fond of River Phoenix, devoting multiple letters to him and his troubled life. Special mention is made of Stand by Me and My Own Private Idaho.
    • In English class, Laurel recites the poem "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop.
    • Judy Garland and her life are discussed in depth in Laurel's letters to her.
    • Laurel admires Amelia Earhart, and dressed as her one Halloween.
    • She writes a few letters to Amy Winehouse, and Hannah likes to sing her songs, especially "Rehab".
    • Aunt Amy's favorite show is Mister Ed.
    • Kristen's bumper sticker reads, "I'm not talking to myself, I'm talking to Janis Joplin."
    • Laurel recounts watching The Dark Knight on TV with her dad in a letter to Heath Ledger.