Letters to the lost by Brigid Kemmerer

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408883525
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: YA Romance; Grief; Relationship; Family; Juvenile Justice; Photography; Alcoholism.
This is a story of the compounding distress of grief and loss; a story of two young teen lives irreconcilably altered by different tragic circumstances who happen upon each other through their words on a page - delivered at a graveside. Their twisted and distorted realities make them vulnerable and uncertain, and as strangers they bond as they share with one another truths that they could not say face-to-face. This dialogue enables them to come to grips with all that is happening in their lives and leads them to a relationship that could all come unravelling very fast if they actually knew who it was that they were unburdening themselves to. The complexities of grief and the impacts that it has when those who grieve feel an element of guilt, are part of the burden for the teen protagonists, Juliet and Declan. The two letter writers (and eventually email correspondents writing under assumed names) are both reeling, pushing people away in real life and hiding from help, but the lifeline of their correspondence gives them hope and draws them together. This is not a Romeo and Juliet saga, but it does have some of the anguish of a developing young relationship built on shaky ground.
The secondary characters in this book are winningly portrayed - Declan and Juliet's teachers, who care in an above-and-beyond way and see through the masks that are exposed to the world; friends who are robust in complexity and yet are strongly loyal, and are not stereotyped; family members who themselves need to deal with the torturous path of recovering from loss. This aspect of the book makes this a multi-layered romance and exploration of deeper relationship issues, but while still retaining clever plot development and nuanced characterisation. The power of photography to capture a moment is also used in an intriguing way through this story.
Note: No inappropriate language issues - rare in YA fiction and very much appreciated.
Carolyn Hull