Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Reviews: 'Love Letters to the Dead' by Ava Dellaira and 'My Heart and Other Black Holes' by Jasmine Warga

1. Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira
I felt like this book punched me in the heart. Love Letters to the Dead follows a series of letters written by Laurel, a teenage girl just starting high school, having lost her older sister May in an accident. It starts as an assignment for her English class; write a letter to a dead person, but soon Laurel turns the assignment into journal entries of her own. As someone who has dealt with a fair amount of grief, I feel this book really hits the mark on what its like to lose someone so close to you. A lot of people on the Internet called it weak, immature and often a copycat of Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower. While it is very similar to Perks, I think that was kind of the point; to tell a story like that one but with a different scenario. I also think Ava Dellaira and Stephen Chbosky are friends, because she thanks him in the acknowledgements (and he has a quote as a critic on the front cover). So, yes, Love Letters to the Dead does have moments that some could consider weak and perhaps unoriginal, but I think the general point of the story transcends those parts, especially while accurately portraying Laurel's struggle with losing her sister all while adjusting to the world of high school. This book also reminds me of Leila Sales' This Song Will Save Your Life, which a lot of people loved, but I found was seriously lacking in parts and unrealistic in others. The same people who loved that book seemed to have those opinions about Love Letters to the Dead, so this leads me to realize that we all like different books for different reasons. I couldn't relate as strongly to the protagonist in This Song Will Save Your Life, but I know others definitely did, just as they might not relate to Laurel in the way I do. All this to say that this is one of those rare YA books that touches upon subjects that some, but not everyone, can deeply relate to, and I'm one of them. You might not be, and for that you might not like Love Letters to the Dead, but I definitely think it's worth reading and I recommend it if you've ever dealt with losing someone close to you. Plus, all the dead people Laurel wrote letters to are pretty much all idols of mine, so it made me feel close to the character as well as renewing my love for the deceased celebrities she wrote to. 5/5 stars.

2. My Heart and Other Black Holes, by Jasmine Warga:
I avoided this book for a long time, because something about the premise sounded just a little too dark for me; two teens who become each other's suicide partner. Then, upon a trip to the library a few weeks ago to find something to read, I decided it was finally time to see if in fact My Heart and Other Black Holes is too dark for me. First off, let me just say that for a book with a premise as dark as this one, it deals with depression in a very real and honest way without completely bumming out the reader (not that I think depression shouldn't bum people out, but this book managed to explore both the comic and un-comic sides of depression in an original way). I was sure there would be parts where I would find that Aysel, the female protagonist, wasn't thinking her decisions through for wanting to kill herself because maybe her life wasn't worth throwing away. But no; Jasmine Warga does a fairly good job at creating the realm of depression and how, for some people, it's a hole you fall into and may never be able to climb out of. When Aysel decides she needs a suicide partner to finally put an end to her misery, she meets up with Roman. Both of them are very different and very realistic. Aysel might be a really smart physics nerd, but her "voice" feels like that of a real person; a real human struggling with something big. And Roman is proof that not all depression sufferers are nerdy outsiders and emos. I also enjoyed the conversation between them, both the serious talk and the darkly comic aspects. My only really big issue with My Heart and Other Black Holes comes into play towards the last 50 pages or so. Warga had spent all this time building up this book with dark but very likable characters, and then Aysel sort of recovers from her depression. I don't want to spoil anything major, but somehow she goes from hating her life and and deciding she's ready to end it all to having one person prove to her that it's all "worth it" or whatever. Life is worth it, and Aysel is worth it, so I don't believe she should have killed herself, but it was basically as if she turned a switch in her brain that made her not be depressed anymore and it was as if Roman made her find this switch. It was kind of a lazy climax and an insulting message (depression is by no means a switch you can turn on and off) to an otherwise really likable read with really likable characters, considering its very dark premise. 4/5 stars.

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