I rarely enjoy books written in verse or letters or emails rather than just a straightforward narrative. They tend to feel less organic to me, like it's a sort of fake, gimmicky device that loses its charm for me before the story is done. So when I recommend something that is written that way? It's managed to keep me as a reader despite this structure, and that's some good, compelling writing, right there.
Ava Dellaira's debut novel, Love Letters To The Dead, is this way. Laurel is asked by the English teacher in her new school to write a letter to a dead person. She does start this, but once she starts, she just keeps going, filling a whole notebook over the school year as she finds her way through grieving for her sister, moving into a new school, learning to forgive herself and her family, and mostly, letting people in and talking about what's going on with her. Along the way, she finds friends, meets, loses, and maybe regains a boyfriend, and learns to see the adults in her life differently. It's a year of growing up in every way, and she talks a lot about learning who she is as she has to find her own path now, without her sister to idolize and follow.
It's heart-wrenching in some places, entirely relateable in others, and full of lovely little turns of phrase that had me dog-earing pages so I could go back and find them, something I rarely do unless a line really strikes me. Can I just tell you this book is practically mangled now from this? And as much as this book contains some difficult topics, Laurel's slow process of facing them makes it easier, and the sheer beauty of the writing make it an amazing read, one I quoted at people for the whole time I was reading, and I can't help but leave one little bit here for you with an image about change and growth that I really liked:
We didn't kiss or anything else. We just lay together like that, breathing. I felt something between us shifting, like the hidden plates of the earth. You think you know someone, but that person always changes, and you keep changing, too. I understood it suddenly, how that's what being alive means. Our own invisible plates shifting inside our bodies, beginning to align into the people we are going to become.