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.
I actually never meant to read this book. I wasn’t interested in it at all. But then I read her second novel, In Search of Us, for work, which I really liked, and decided to give this one a try anyway – and off I was on a reading odyssey. I borrowed the audio book online from my library but had to discover that it ended rather abruptly. Too abruptly and on a rather sad note for a YA novel. So I did some research and found out that a quarter of the book was missing. Fortunately, I was able to borrow a paperback copy from a colleague to finish it. I’m glad I did, though this book wasn’t really for me.
Letters to the Dead
I loved the idea of telling the story in letters to famous people who died rather tragically. Interwoven in Laurel’s and May’s stories, there are a couple of facts about them and they also have some connection to the characters or their story, which was neat. However, I wasn’t really able to connect to any of them. Though I have heard of most of them, some I even know a little of, they were all people I personally have no connection to whatsoever, so that element fell a bit flat.
If I had been in Laurel’s shoes (and written this today, since a lot of these people were still alive when the book was originally published – and while some of my list died tragically, others did not), I would have addressed my letters to Empress Elisabeth “Sisi” of Austria, Astrid Lindgren, Erich Kästner, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Leonard Nimoy, Carrie Fisher, Alan Rickman, Freddie Mercury, and Chester Bennington.
On another note, those letters weren’t really letters. There was lots and lots of dialogue, which doesn’t make particular sense. No one would be able to remember all of this so detailed to put it in a letter afterwards. It’s a little sad that it didn’t feel quite real.
A Note on the Living
I also didn’t particularly warm up to the characters. I liked Laurel well enough – she grew on me in the end. I had some issues with her following her new friends almost blindly, but I guess it makes sense in the bigger picture. I really didn’t like those friends though. They kind of drew her on a dark path – although they were there for her when it mattered.
The love story was alright, very dramatic but also mature. The dynamic between Sky and Laurel was great and pretty realistic considering the situation and all the ups and downs. I did enjoy watching their story unfold.
The back story is pretty heavy stuff – well, all in all, all characters and their stories are quite tragic in this one. It takes some time to figure out what was going on, since at first it is only hinted at. But the more the story progresses, the more Laurel tells about what happened to her and what eventually took May’s life. Not all of it is written out; some is left between the lines, which is a style I personally like a lot. The whole reality of this novel is harsh and very sad. A fitting composition, but ultimately not for me.