By Brigid Kemmerer (Bloomsbury)
Letters to the Lost is a beautiful exploration of grief, loss and acceptance explored through the lives of two very different teens. Juliet’s photojournalist mother died in a car crash a few months ago and without her, nothing seems to have much meaning. Juliet’s late for classes, has dropped out of her photography class, is neglecting her friendships and always hanging around her mother’s gravestone leaving loving letters to her. The day one of the letters gets answered turns her world upside down again. Who could be reading her private letters?
Declan Murphy is so angry he can’t walk through the world without looking like he’s going to beat someone up. After a drunk driving incident he’s on probation and has to do community service by mowing lawns – around the local cemetery. When he first finds the letter Juliet left for her mom he finds himself drawn to her pain and her sadness – “the kind of pain you’re certain no one else has felt, ever.” Drawn out of his own grieving and guilt – he lost his sister four years before and his father is in prison for causing her death (yup – its heavy!) he replies to her and so they being a secret correspondence – without knowing who the other person is.
Each of them becomes like a therapist to the other, urging them to talk about and understand their pain in the end to push themselves through and beyond it. The character development is spot on – you feel that both of them come closer to being better versions of themselves by meeting and learning from each other. Their friends, Rowan and particularly Rev, who has a secret pain of his own, are also well written. Expect a book with a huge serving of raw emotion – the perfect outlet for anyone processing their own grief.
With themes of death, loss, acceptance, guilt, alcoholism, and the stigmas of labels and judging people, this is the perfect YA novel that will have you alternately crying and cheering for the two to find each other and find some happiness. There are a few cliches – Declan is a little too angry and aggressive with a smouldering anger that makes everyone a little too ready to call the police when he’s around and his step father is the classic mean step father who just wants Declan’s mother to himself. Juliet is very believable and her journey through her grief feels real. The story flows so smoothly you’ll find it hard to put down.
A sequel featuring Rev as the main character has also come out – More Than We Can Tell.