Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
This book was emotional and raw and unfortunately, doesn’t offer a new premise to YA readers. BUT you should still read this, preferably when you are in a melancholy sort of mood because there isn’t a lot of happy in this book and the payoff is at the very end. Get sad, invest some time, grab a blanket and start reading. Why, if this isn’t anything new, should you read this anyway? Because it is exceptional in its portrayal of grief. The writing and emotional growth these two characters experienced were almost cathartic for me to read, and I have zero experience or connection to the type of pain they are experiencing. That’s impressive. Juliet’s mother had a worldly and exotic job as a photojournalist. She was rarely home, traveling the world covering war torn countries and child refugees, telling stories in snapshots. Juliet’s own photos feel vapid compared to what her mom shot. Not that it matters; she hasn’t touched a camera since the night she died. She spends her free moments at her gravesite, leaving handwritten letters that her mom will never read. Her father is still in a haze of grief, and neither of them has even spoken much. These letters are all she has as a coping mechanism, so when she realizes that someone has opened her letter and responded, she is not happy. Her privacy is violated, and now someone knows all of her secrets. Declan Murphy is a bad boy- he’s on that side of good looking that appears dangerous and has the attitude, scowl, and reputation to support it. His anger issues are what got him into this in the first place. He is completing community service as a groundskeeper at a cemetery when he finds a letter left on a tombstone. He reads it and senses an immediate connection to this person and feels obligated to respond. He knows a bit about grief himself. His alcoholic father was driving his little sister the night they crashed, killing her and sending him to jail. The guilt Declan has about letting his father drive that night is insurmountable and that coupled with his new step-dad, his rage is at an all time high. The only thing that keeps him grounded is his best friend, Rev. Deep down he is a lonely boy who just wants his mom to trust him again. You can’t help but root for Declan even when he's a complete jerk. It’s no secret to the reader that Declan and Juliet are now writing to each other but neither know the true identity of the other. Knowing the truth feels like it would take away the intimacy of their letters and they aren’t ready for that. But when circumstance reveals Juliet to Declan, he can’t reconcile the way she treats him at school SPOILER- it isn’t nice- with who she is in her letters. As the two become more dependent on the other, it’s obvious that something has to give. There are some pretty crappy adults in this story and some pretty awesome ones too. Rev needs his own book, and I would love to see how his story plays out in the future. Yes, this is a terribly sad book. Yes, I’ve read similar ones before. Yes, the reader has to wait a long time to get some satisfaction. Here’s my suggestion to you- listen to this audio. If you’ve listened to books before, you know that emotions are much easier to gauge than just reading them on paper. You hear it in the character’s voice, and it has a stronger presence overall that adds to the impact of their stories. I don’t know if I would have felt this strongly about it had I read it and that is okay- it just reminds me of why I listen to books in the first place.