LETTERS TO THE LOST, by Brigid Kemmerer, Bloomsbury USA Childrens, April 4, 2017, Hardcover, $17.99 (young adult)
Grief manifests itself in different ways — denial, anger, depression, guilt. Brigid Kemmerer explores these manifestations in her YA novel Letters to the Lost.
Juliet Young learned at a young age the fine art of letter writing. Her mother, a famous photojournalist, was always traveling, away for weeks at a time. Writing letters to her mom became second nature. So when Juliet’s mother is killed in a hit-and-run, Juliet finds herself still writing. Leaving those letters at her mother’s grave is the only thing that keeps Juliet going.
Declan Murphy is the kind of guy you’d cross the street to get away from. He’s angry and the world knows it. He’s even got a record — that’s why he’s spending his afternoons doing community service at the local cemetery. And that’s how he finds a letter left beside a grave.
Against his better judgment, Declan not only reads the letter, he writes back, too. When Juliet reads his response, she can’t believe that someone would invade her privacy. She lets the writer know exactly how she feels. Soon the two are corresponding, though neither knows with whom they are sharing their most secret thoughts.
But there’s a problem — Juliet and Declan aren’t actually strangers, and when school life intersects with their writings their friendship is put to the ultimate test.
Letters to the Lost is an engrossing read. I found myself sneaking pages in between activities with my daughter and reading it late into the night.
What makes Letters to the Lost work so well is Brigid Kemmerer’s treatment of a hard topic against the backdrop of “normal” teenage life. There’s a lot of angst here without the whiny melodrama that you may have come to expect in contemporary YA.
And while the melodrama isn’t there, Brigid attacks Juliet and Declan’s problems head on. No mincing words here. She’s brutally honest, and as a reader, I respected her that much more for it.
Letters to the Lost isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s a hard read emotionally and some language and short scenes may be too raw for some readers. That said, I think most readers will walk away appreciating what Brigid has created.
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