Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Review: Love Letters to the Dead
Can a recommendation from a non-blogger or YA amateur really yield effective and enthralling bookish results? Or will it be just another dud doorstop in the teen contemporary stack?
It's always interesting to see recommendations from people who don't specialize in reading YA books. Doing so can yield fairly varying results: they'll say, "it's pretty good for its type," which means nothing, or they'll say, "It's a great guilty read!" in which case I'll most likely love it, but it is in no way a really great book. There are very few that truly mean they love a book when they say they don't usually love YA... and those few are usually indoctrinated John Green followers (God love you people, but damn).
But here's the part where I haven't learned my lesson yet: I thought I could trust Emma Watson's judgement when she tweeted about how much she enjoyed the novel Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira, because she does actually have some experience in the field, having starred in notable teen hipster fave, Perks of Being a Wallflower. Additionally, since that same sense of approval was corroborated by some of my favorite book blogs, I even managed to put aside my natural tendency to stay as far away from contemporary as possible.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed, again. Darn it.
Love Letters to the Dead details the life Laurel, a teen girl on a new path after her sister's untimely death makes things too complicated at her old school. Told in an epistolary format, through the letters she writes to dead celebrities like Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Amelia Earhart, the novel explores themes of self-discovery, young love, and coming to terms with grief, all leading to the grand revelation that Laurel might be keeping secrets even from the letters she can never send.
I'll shoot it to you straight: LLttD was the same kind of overly-saccharine, dramatized teen novel that I've come to associate with everything annoying about the teen contemporary genre. The narrator's seemingly relatable tone, is completely displaced with terrifyingly possible teenage experiences, that instead of granting the dignities those realities deserved, lost all nuance through their Lifetime Original Movie treatment.
Exploration of sexuality, sexual abuse, divorce, first loves and first times, romanticized alcoholism, death and grieving, drug use... pick one. Or two. At least not all of them. Every single one of these topics - some tropes, some too real, some which need to be explored in the contemporary genre further - were fit in to the novel at the severe expense of its reality.
Because of the somewhat direct approach to all this heavy subject matter, I wasn't surprised to see that one of the first names listed on the acknowledgement page, also highlighted in a blurb on the cover, was Stephen Chbosky himself. The things is, Perks of Being a Wallflower contains much of a similar tone to LLttD, but excels far better in the execution, because he chooses to focus more strongly on the voice of the narrator than the story the character is supposed to be telling, which makes it a lot more believable, and a lot less like an emotional circus.
The novel romanticizes the most extreme dramatics of youth with little-to-no real world ramifications. It has a happy ending, when for most people caught in those situations, there wouldn't be. It encourages the inflection of dangerous behaviors and mindsets into a confusing time, when there's really no need for that much self-destruction.
I can't tell whether this book was made FOR Tumblr, or from it. The entire thing screams for daisy chains and high waisted acid wash denim with a gauzy crop top and a pink-toned Insta filter. There's no way in hell my sister is getting her hands on this book. It would be of no benefit to her... I'd rather buy her another Rainbow Rowell instead.
Final Verdict: A rose-tinted, over-dramatized account of teenage experiences that are all too real and all too dangerous, but are inflicted without restraint and without comprehensive ramifications in a slapdash narrative. Would not recommend to any teenager.