Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid KemmererLetters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 400
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Before reading Letters to the Lost, I just was not sure it would be a Christina book. It sounded way too sad and melodramatic. I’m not generally into bad boy books, and grief books can be just absolutely the most painful (see: Second Chance Summer). I should have trusted in Gillian (Writer of Wrongs), who loved this and is basically my book twin, because I was captured by the voice and narrative style on the first page, and I couldn’t put this book down.

Well, okay, that’s a slight lie. I did put the book down, but only at like 1:30 AM, because I needed to get some sleep bc goddammit Monday and responsibilities and this is why we can’t have nice things. I slept pretty terribly, which I think might be the book’s fault, but I’m not even mad, because I woke up early and got to finish before work. Honestly, if something took the place of sleep and I don’t hate it, that means something. I very much value my sleep.

Letters to the Lost opens each chapter with a letter or email, or occasionally the painful absence of a message. One thing that may not be super apparent from this blog is that I LOVE epistolary novels a whole bunch; they’re just aren’t a ton of them, so it’s not something I get to squee over too often, epistolary novels having peaked in popularity before the 20th century. Epistolary novels are fantastic for bantery readers, because these exchanges are ALL communication. It’s not the same as back and forth dialog, but it’s a similar principal where the characterization depends heavily on how they present themselves in a written form, rather than the descriptive narration.

Juliet’s mother died the previous May in a hit-and-run accident, on the way back from the airport. Because Jules asked her to come home early, she feels guilty for her mother’s death, and she’s unable to process her grief. She and her mother exchanged letters when her mom was (frequently) away on assignment, and now she writes letters and leaves them at her grave a couple of times a week. Declan, assigned to mow lawns for his community service requirement after drunkenly crashing a car into a tree, finds one of Jules’ letters and responds. This begins their correspondence, initially in anger and then in kinship.

Both Juliet and Declan are trying and largely failing to manage their grief. Declan’s incident, combined with other shit that happened to his family, left Declan with a reputation as a bad kid. Though he’s a good guy, he’s big and grumpy and kinda scary (sorry, Declan), so no one notices that he’s a kind, smart kid. Then again, he’s living down to that bad reputation because people always assume he’s up to no good no matter what, which has made him lash out at others. He has a really great narrative arc here.

Weirdly, though I was into the romance, my major feels actually came from the family dynamics and friendships. Though Declan’s friend Rev doesn’t really have a plot of his own, he’s awesome. He’s been through terrible shit, and he’s come through it scarred but determined to be incredibly caring. He and Declan have this feels-making moment of connection and true understanding towards the end, and I want to give them both giant hugs.

Jules has a fairly typical grief narrative arc; she’s always idolized her photographer mother and looked down on her boring father, but over the course of the book realizes she hasn’t truly understood either of them. Jules and her dad gave me definite feels. And the teachers who care enough to help them (while also following school rules!)killed my emotions, my god. Actually, even Declan’s talk with his step-father did. Kemmerer does a really nice job capturing that all of these people have made big mistakes, they’re all deeply flawed and screwed up, but they all can choose a better path in the future. Just because they fucked up royally doesn’t mean it’s game over.

For all the darkness of the plot and set up, Kemmerer resists turning this book melodramatic. The expected narrative beat of a big fight at the revelation of who the pen pals were doesn’t come. Kemmerer manages to walk that line between fluff and darker contemporary, and she does it very well. This book is funny, sweet, sad, and inspiring by turns.

I will assuredly be going back and reading Kemmerer’s paranormal series I was a bit skeptical of because of the unfortunate covers. Letters to the Lost was a surprise hit. Give it a shot!

Favorite Quote:

“Do you want to go to the dance tonight?” I say to Rev.
Both Kristin and Geoff stop short and stare at me.
Rev seizes a piece of chicken with his chopsticks. “Only if you wear that little red sequined number I like.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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3 responses to “Review: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer”

  1. I didn’t think this sounded like a real me book either but I am also a huge fan of epistolary novels. There’s just something about them that is so damn fun. Will be keeping this one in mind for sure.
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday – Odd & True by Cat WintersMy Profile

  2. Sarah says:

    This one could be in my upcoming reading wishlist. I really keen to know more about this genre because I am usually into thriller and ghost stories. Can’t wait to get a copy of this book.

  3. Leah says:

    This is one of my favorite books of 2017! I am over the moon because I found out Brigid’s planning a sequel with Rev as the main character.

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