Love Letters to the Dead- Ava Dellaira
In this literary critique, S.C. analyzes the journey to find oneself in Love Letters to the Dead through using letters to famous people and seeing their own personal journeys to self discovery.


“Love Letters to the Dead,” written by Ava Dellaira, is a coming-of-age novel that describes the ongoing struggle of a teenage girl, Laurel, who must accept the death of her sister. In accepting her sister May’s death, she must also understand that it was not her fault. In a life where Laurel has no one she feels she can truly open up to, she begins an English assignment of writing letters to the dead. In time, she accumulates her letters to dead musicians and writers. Her ability to speak of the night May died grows stronger, until she can finally release her demons to not only her closest friends, but her parents too. Almost a year late, Laurel hands in her English assignment as a changed person.
Laurel says it from the start, she has no idea who she is meant to be as a person. She wants to be just like her older sister May. “On my first day, I went into her closet and found the outfit that I remember her wearing her first day-a pleated skirt with a pink cashmere sweater that she cut the neck off of a pinned a Nirvana patch to, the smiley face one with the x-shaped eyes. I put it on and stared at myself in front of her mirror, trying to feel like I belonged in any world, but on me it looked like I was wearing a costume” (Dellaira 1). Laurel did not like being herself, because she was a blank space, with no true identity. She wore what her sister wore, in hopes of slipping into her confidence and bravery.
Laurel is able to release some of her emotions in writing to the dead. Preferably, the famous. With each person that she writes to, Laurel explains their past, and ultimately learns a lesson or two about it. Eventually, it helps her discover herself. For example, Laurel writes to Amelia Earhart. The woman who was capable of opening her wings and soaring. Laurel tried to take Amelia’s courage with her when she truly needed it. “I decided this morning that I really need even the tiniest bit of the courage that you had because I started high school almost three weeks ago, and I can’t keep sitting alone by the fence anymore” (Dellaira 11). Laurel was able to build up the courage by channeling her inner Amelia, and in doing so made two friends she would hold onto throughout the novel and onward. It was thanks to her inspiration from Amelia that helped Laurel grow as a person.
The letters don’t just stop at Amelia Earhart. They range from Kurt Cobain, to Janis Joplin all the way to Judy Garland. Judy Garland led the example to Laurel that someone could rise from the ashes towards happiness. “Your parents used to fight so much it scared you, but you kept singing. Your mom put all of her energy into trying to make you a star. You traveled on the vaudeville circuit with your two older sisters-first then Gumm Sisters, then the Garland Sister, and then it was you who got signed by MGM. Laurel took Judy Garland’s hopefulness and tried applying it to her own life, which faced the shadows.
The letters that Laurel writes become a symbol throughout the novel, representing the thoughts that she wishes she could tell to the alive and breathing world. But that was the lure Laurel had in writing to these stars. While they were all dead, they weren’t forgotten. Their names were recognizable and their legacies stronger than ever.
Laurel finds who she truly is by adopting the good qualities of her inspirations. She learns about herself writing to the dead, which helps her speak to the present. “So I decided that I’m going to turn all of my letters into Mrs. Buster. School is still open for a few days for teachers to finish their grades, so tomorrow or the next day, I’ll go and leave them in her teacher’s mailbox. For some reason, maybe because she gave me the assignment in the first place, I want her to read what I wrote” (Dellaira 310). To think that when Laurel wrote her first letter, she had no intent on handing in the book. But by summer time, she was ready to share her story with the world, thanks to the wisdom of those before her who helped Laurel find who she was meant to be.
(S.C. 2016)