Up Late with Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

18140047I picked up this book at NCTE and had the author sign it–part of me wishes I’d read it beforehand so I could tell her firsthand what a phenomenal book it was. However, I’m glad I have the book and I know I will be handing this out to a few specific students at school. This book begins with an English assignment–to write a letter to a dead person. So Laurel decides to write to Kurt Cobain. She never turns in her assignment, but keeps on writing to people–Amelia Earhart, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Keats, among others. Her letters are cathartic, and we see her struggle to process her sister’s recent death.

This epistolary novel explores a young girl’s grieving process–for her parents, who have split; for her sister, who has died; and for herself, who is lost. The voice in this book is distinct and strong and compelling. I enjoyed the different tidbits of each dead person’s like she weaves in with a second person approach, that, surprisingly, worked. She addresses the dead person she writes to about their life, and her life, and about her friends’ lives. It felt like I really understood who Laurel was by the end of the book, and when the reason for all her pain is revealed at the end, it felt like a release of pent-up anger and angst that I had for the narrator. Dellaira creates a believable, yet flawed, character who I think teenagers will understand and will forgive.

I read this book all in one sitting, and I found the prose to be lovely and at points, poetic. I appreciated the inclusion of the poems by Keats and e.e.cummings and even by the narrator–what a lovely way to close the book.

As usual, here are some favorite passages:

  • “I think a lot of people want to be someone, but we are scared that if we try, we won’t be as good as everyone imagines we could be.”
  • “When we are in love, we are both completely in danger and completely safe.”
  • “The thing about traditions is that they hold up the shape of your memory.”
  • “You can be noble and brave and beautiful and still find yourself falling.”
  • “Sometimes, the smallest gestures take up the most room.”
  • “Maybe when we can tell the stories, however bad they are, we don’t belong to them anymore. They become ours.”

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA Board

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Up Late with Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

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