Since I first started getting into YA contemporary a few years back, there have been some misses, some solidly enjoyable reads, and a few books that have made me sit there and go, ‘Wow, I really loved that’. Letters to the Lost falls squarely within category three. This is a story that’s honest, emotionally deep, fantastically written, and somehow enjoyable, despite its often sad content.
Who, What Where?
LTTL follows high school seniors Juliet and Declan. Juliet, still grieving the death of her mother killed in a hit and run several months ago, is having difficulty moving on with her life. She takes comfort in writing letters to her mother as if she were still alive and leaves them at her grave. Declan is serving community service at the local cemetery as punishment for drunk driving a car into an office building. After finding one of Juliet’s letters among the headstones, Declan finds himself writing a reply. And so begins an exchange of anonymous letters that will have a profound impact on them both.
Dealing & Moving On
I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of LTTL. The novel has three main overarching storylines: 1) Juliet coming to terms with her mother’s death and trying to engage in life again, 2) Declan dealing with his past family trauma and current family difficulties, and 3) the relationship between the two characters. Each of these stories is given a great degree of attention and depth, and all three are seen through to a satisfying conclusion. As a reader, seeing Juliet and Declan work to overcome their demons and emotional weights is extremely cathartic, and I’ll admit, there were several scenes towards the end that had me feeling some intense…things. Yet, I will say that there are some aspects of the story that do verge into melodramatic territory, but if you can get on board with this early you’ll likely enjoy the ride.
You Get Me
The relationship between Juliet and Declan is beautifully handled and layered. On the one hand, we have their written relationship in which the two feel comfortable to share their guilt, grief, secrets and thoughts about life within the safety of anonymity. At the same time, we also have their real-life interactions which, while starting off on very shaky ground, eventually grow and develop as they come to know more about one another. It’s the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge someone before you truly know them or what they’ve been through.
Characters, Big & Small
Although the writing is amazing, it’s the characters that really made me fall in love with this one.
Declan: On the surface, Declan seems very much like the aggressive, angsty bad boy with a terrible reputation and we see this clearly from Juliet’s early interactions with him. However, Kemmerer wonderfully pulls back the layers on Declan bit by bit to reveal this caring, smart and guilt-wracked person who I so badly wanted to see find some peace, kindness and closure.
Juliet: Unlike Declan, I took some time warming up to Juliet as her grief makes her a little prickly in the earlier stages of the book. As the story goes on though, we get to understand and empathise with her a lot more. I loved seeing her open up to Declan in her letters/e-mails and using these conversations as encouragement to make changes in her life, especially where it came to her friends, family and photography.
Rev: Declan’s friend, Rev, was easily one of the best characters in the book. As an abuse survivor, Rev has his own internal battles to deal with, but he’s also a great friend, kind of awkward, very sweet, and in possession of a dry sense of humour. With this much potential, I’m really looking forward to seeing him in a lead role in More Than We Can Tell.
Wonderful Adults Galore: Can I just give a big shout out to all the gorgeous adult characters in this book. Sure, there’s definitely a few…not so good ones, but the others definitely make up for them in spades (especially since I find that adults frequently get the shaft in YA contemporaries). There’s Mr. Gerardi, who encourages Juliet to get back into photography, Mrs Hillard, who pushes Declan academically and persists despite resistance, Juliet’s dad, a massive sweetheart just trying to do the best for his daughter, and “Melonhead”, Declan’s community service supervisor, who helps him talk through some of his feelings and experiences.
You’ve Got Mail
The writing in LTTL is A+. The story alternates between Juliet and Declan’s first-person perspectives and their letters/e-mails to each other. These letters were one of my favourite parts of the novel as they showcase Juliet and Declan gradually opening up to and trusting one another with intimately personal details about their lives as well as thoughts they’ve never spoken about with anyone. This style choice also allowed for the seamless transition between the two characters’ POVs. These were fantastically done as well, with each character possessing an individual voice and Kemmerer able to perfectly capture their emotions on the page in a way that I couldn’t help but connect with them.
While I may not have been able to fully get aboard the Kemmerer fantasy train with A Curse so Dark and Lonely, I am 100% full steam ahead when it comes to her YA contemporaries. LTTL is not a light book by any means, but despite its moments of over the top drama, it always feels true, raw, and compelling. After a book that’ll make you feel some things but is still enjoyable? This is the ticket.